Your Amazing Succession PR Scene Translator


I am a big fan of Succession, an HBO Max drama about family media empire Waystar Royco, which is run by aging patriarch Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox with snarling intensity).   There’s great writing, a superb cast, and always lots of palace initrigue over who will succeed Logan.

I also like the show because of its strong focus on PR.   There’s lots of talk about optics, crises, and influencing the media, both directly, by messing with the editorial independence of Waystar’s own Fox-like cable network, ATN, and indirectly, via PR.  The media, lawyers, and comms execs are all part of the drama as the main cast members joust for power and seek to sway Wall Street and Main Street.

As Kendall Logan, the heir apparent (until he wasn’t… then was again; ya just have to watch!) said in a recent episode, while preening for a reporter over dinner, “Image is the family business.”

I have spent the better part of my career in PR, and love seeing the field get its 15 minutes of fame. Which is not to say that the show nails it.  E.g. it seems the stereotypical PR handlers, fixers and flunkies are never too far away from the action. But the writers certainly make it entertaining, and PR is well-integrated into almost every episode.

Anatomy of PR Scenes in Succession

To give you a taste, I thought I’d share scenes from the first episode of the current season (season 3), with my commentary, and just enough info to get the gist even if you are not a fan or haven’t seen this show. 

PR featured especially prominently in this epsiode due to the way Season 2 ended: Kendall Roy had turned on his dad during a press conference on national TV, taking a blowtorch to the enterprise over sexual abuse and coverup allegations related to their cruise line business. So there was the need for lots of damage control and maneuvering.

Just Like the O.J. Van Ride (“This is a Righteous Vehicle”)

Kendall Roy has left the press conference and is being driven somewhere to evade the media scrum.  He is in a limo with Karolina Novotney, Waystar Royco’s Comms Chief, and Greg Hirsch (“cousin Greg”), who holds some important cards and needs to decide which side he is on: Kendall’s or Logan’s. The transcript is provided courtesy of TV Show Transcripts (also, see the video above).

Kendall: This is a company vehicle.

Karolina: What? I mean, I don’t have a dog in this fight. But since you just clearly opened the company up to investigation, lawsuits, I imagine you’re no longer working for the company?

Kendall: Well, no, because I was acting in the best interests of the company.

Karolina: Yeah? Violating your duty of confidentiality? Violating your fiduciary duties as a director?

Kendall: Look. I need a sealed unit here, Karolina. I need a clean jar. So… so… are you in for this f*cking revolution? This is a fork in your life, Karolina. This is the righteous vehicle.

Karolina: It’s just not… It’s not…

Kendall: Okay. Stop the car. Out. Out. Please. I need to make calls.

Karolina: Ken…

Kendall: I can’t have weevils in the f*cking flour sack, okay? Out. Now. Everything you’ve heard today is privileged. Repeat anything and I’ll sue you out of your f*cking ass.

(The limo stops, she gets out)

Kendall: Greg, Greg, if I get taken out on other shit, I might need you to take my cultural temperature.

Greg: Uh-huh. Got it. Okay? As in? Uh, wh… what does that, uh, mean?

Kendall: Like before I get my media monitoring in place I might need you to slide the sociopolitical thermometer up the nation’s ass and take a reading. Okay?

Greg: I’ll get seasick. (Stutters)

Kendall: Just feed me the metadata, anything that’s gonna move the market on me reputationally, yeah? (Phone notification chimes)

Greg: Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah. Sure. Uh, media monitoring department over here

Analysis:  It was great to see the PR rep be the adult in the room, or car – and not drinking the Kool-Aid.  Karolina, who clearly had no part in Kendall going rogue, is not playing along.  Also, in the same scene, Kendall is spouting some gibberish about media monitoring.

PR Agency Pitch (“F*ck the Weather, we are Changing the Cultural Climate”)

To throw off the press, Kendall then moves the war room to his ex-wife’s apartment; where he and his team hole up to plan next steps.  There he is pitched by PR agency owner Berry Schneider and her sidekick Comfrey.

Kendall: Welcome to my ex-wife’s living room. Sit, sit.

Berry: Can we just say, right off, some jobs are money jobs, some are heart jobs. 

Comfrey We would love to work with you. We love the narrative arc. We love everything you did.

PR Translator: OK, here we go, PR yes-women. “We love the narrative arc.” Give me a break, I have never said this on a pitch.

Kendall: And I would love to work with you, but, uh, if it’s cool, and I know you guys are the best but is it okay if this is still a pitch?

PR Translator: Kendall wants a taste, some free advice before signing them. That is usually fair game in the biz.

Berry: Of course!

Kendall: Great.

Berry: So, we have a lot of thoughts.

Kendall: Yeah.

Berry: Communication planning and positioning thoughts. How we can leverage our relationships with significant writers at major outlets. 

Kendall: Yes. Yes. 

Berry: Prepare to prime and amplify some impressive secondaries. 

PR Translator: They’re going to pursue top tier media friendlies, and second level ones.

Kendall: Great, great. So, shall, shall I talk, or will you? 

Berry: Well, we want to hear your thoughts, of course, but you wanna start off just hearing our five points? 

Kendall: Sure. Sure, you go. 

Berry: Okay. So… 

Kendall: But I think the headline needs to be “f*ck the weather, we’re changing the cultural climate”. But you go. 

PR Translator: The nightmare client – he doesn’t want to hear their thoughts, thinks he knows the best strategy.

Berry: Okay, I mean… 

Kendall: For context, I, I, I’m talking to the Times about an op-ed. Draft an alternative corporate manifesto. Drop a rapid reaction TEDx. sh1t like that.

PR Translator: Again, a micromanaging client that does not know what he’s talking about. “Rapid reaction TEDx?” Fans of the show know that Kendall can get over excited and spout nonsense.

Berry: Well, that’s great.

Kendall: It’s cheesy as f*ck but, you know, I need people to see this was part of a coherent philosophy, not just punching an old guy in the f*cking nose? Yeah? 

Berry: Right. Right. That’s in line with our thoughts. So… 

Kendall: Well, I just, I may as well say, on a dumb level, I’d like my Twitter to be off the hook. This could all get super earnest, so I was thinking of hitting up some BoJack guys. You know? Some, some, some of the Lampoon kids… to just smash that sh1t, make my feed a little powder keg people need to check-in with? 

PR Translator: This is dad-PR talk. Kendall thinks he is being smart, hip. It is also interesting how Twitter and influencer marketing gets mixed in with other strategies. And there actually is a tie-in with this show and BoJack Horseman.

Berry: Like cool tweets that position you? 

Yeah, that would be the… straight-leg chino way of putting it. “Cool tweets”.

Berry and Kendall: F*ck you (laughs)

Kendall: No, it’s… I’m kidding. I know you guys are the best. Okay, sorry. I want to work with you if you can… if you can work with me? 

Berry: Sure. Well, we think you’re going to win this and we like winners! 

PR Translator: They’ll take any job.

Kendall: Hell yeah!

Posted in Crisis Management, Current Affairs, Public Relations, Television, TV | Tagged | Leave a comment

What’s your Hype Cycle Time?

How to Surf the Tech Trends without Going Under

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Everyone is familiar with tastemakers in fashion, music and popular culture. They indicate what is hot and what is not, with words and actions.  Those who want to stay ahead of trends pay close attention.

But what about enterprise tech?

The general idea is the same.  There too, you have influencers, like industry analysts.  But the dynamics are much different. Users and decision-makers aren’t generally surfing TikTok or watching Kylie’s Instagram to see what the next big thing will be.

So what do you do, if you are in enterprise tech or some gorpy B2B space?  How do you track where things are, where they are going, and leverage this insight for PR?

What’s your Silicon Valley Time?

An article I saw a while back inspired this topic. The story, about the tyranny of “Silicon Valley Time,” was widely read and shared. Aaron Zamost’s Medium post rang eerily true for those in the tech marketing, journalism and PR worlds. His subtitle said it all: The tech press moves like clockwork, fitting company narratives into a predictable arc. Here’s how pros deal with it.

He describes the expectations set when a company is founded (“12:00 SVT; Birth – No one really cares”) and circles the clock on to Shiny New Toy, Up and Comer, and Industry Disrupter (3 SVT) and beyond. The idea being, if you are in PR, you should heed this timetable and try to beat the clock in your storytelling and execution.

But the focus here is on another schedule that impacts media coverage. It is the one that follows the inexorable march of technology evolution and disruption.  This one too, is about promise, expectations, triumph and sometimes flameouts.

Here, the clock turns not for an individual company – but for categories (true, one company might be the driving force in a new “bucket,” but there will inevitably be competitors). 

These segments are important because they help the media and their audiences understand what kind of tech you have, and where it fits in the scheme of things. Each category has a narrative, a story arc that starts with invention and ends with obsolescence.  It has its innovators, leaders and followers.

How long it takes for a category to emerge and go big relates to many factors: is there a real market for this new kind of thing, is it affordable, does it work as promised?  All these questions dictate the likelihood that the tech will jump from development, get used by early adopters and eventually reach a mainstream market.

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). Gartner Group famously maps the trajectories of enterprise tech segments in their Hype Cycle reports, charting them along a curve like the one below. Here’s a link to their Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2021.

Wikimedia Commons

Leveraging Tech Evolution for PR

Media appetite and coverage of vendor news and stories vary significantly depending on the stage of the space.  This presents challenges and opportunities for those in the mix.  The savvy tech marketer  adjusts tactics accordingly.

Where does your tech and company fit in the category story arc? And what can you do with this understanding?

Let’s play spin the clock with some examples.

Think desktop PCs, big a million years ago; yeah, still incredibly important – but does anyone really think about them or care much today? Especially media, they don’t necessarily want to cover older stuff AKA “legacy tech.”

Or “big data” – hot or not?  This blog asked that very question five years ago – after NY VC and tech influencer Matt Turck said that big data sounded “increasingly three years ago,”  folowing Gartner’s jettisonong of the phrase from their 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Back then I did an analysis that showed big data was still much buzzed about, despite the second guessing. But today?

Quantum Solace

On the other hand, Most would agree that quantum computing (a segment that Fusion PR works in) is at an early stage.  Depending on who you listen to, we could be 5-10 years away from mainstream adoption.

The Register had a funny piece that skewered Gartner Hype Cycles: Where on Gartner’s Hype Cycle is Gartner’s Hype Cycle? That’s the way uh-huh uh-huh, I hype it Rupert Goodwins writes: “…quantum computing seems to crop up about one year in two. Bless.” (But c’mon, Rupert, doesn’t media play a role in perpetuating hype? Yeah, PR too, obviously. We are all part of the hype-o-system).

Quantum computing is a frothy space – there is much excitement about its potential and eagerness for its arrival. Press interest and coverage reflect this – every minor advancement, things that would go unnoticed in a late adoption stage, get covered here (PoCs, papers, etc.). Hard news rules the day. But the definition of hard news is much more lax.

Surfing the Cycle

Press interest and coverage can vary based on the stage of your technology in the Gartner Hype Cycle. The following is a grab bag of tips and observations accordingly:

  • In the earlys stages – “Technology Trigger” through “Peak of Inflated Expectaions” – new shows, awards, publications and influencers emerge – the savvy PR team does triage on these.
  • It’s a horse race to determine winners and losers, the leaders and followers as the category climbs that slope. There’s a lot of noise. You need to decide whether you want to play the hype game or be more conservative (but there are no awards for playing it low key).
  • The press can get negative as the tech traverses the peak and descends the “Trough of Disillusionment.” If you’re a company that competes in the space, be ready for this.
  • Technologies that are in the later stages of adoption – they are mainstream, widely used, with little fuss – get less media attention. You need to work harder to get that media love.
  • For those, feature articles and bylines about best practices are good options.
Posted in Campaign Analysis, Marketing, Public Relations, Tech PR | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Check out our New Podcast: PR, Done & Doner

I realized that I have been making a lot of noise on the Fusion PR website about PR, Done & Doner – but have said nothing here. Three great episodes in, I guess it is about time.

The podcast was conceived to equip tech PR and marketing with the info needed to get the best possible results, in an informative and easily digestible format. (As you can probably guess by the title and art, it’s intended to be a fun, provocative, irreverent affair. Hopefully not too dumb; or overdone).

We publish via Anchor.fm – you can download audio-only versions there, and from all popular podcasting platforms. To check out videos, head over to Fusion’s YouTube channel.

We publish once a month, and so far, have covered:

Episode 1: I interviewed Robin Schaffer, an industry analyst relations expert.  Her company Schaffer AR helps B2B tech companies maximize results with analysts and get top placement in their reports. Robin countered myths and misperceptions about analysts, and answered the most common questions asked by PR teams, such as:

  • When is the right time to hire an analyst firm?
  • What to invest and when?
  • Hire a big or boutique firm?
  • Is it pay-for-play?
  • They are miscategorizing us (or there is no category) – what to do?

Episode 2: Kevin Maney, co-founder of strategy consulting firm Category Design Advisors, joined me to discuss how tech companies can achieve market leadership.

It’s a noisy and competitive word in technology. How to stand apart? It gets down to creating and owning a category. Kevin offered learnings based on his many years working as a consultant, top journalist and co-author of Play Bigger.

We also got into PR tactics, explored what tech marketing can learn from infomercials, and how to reinvent the press release.

In Episode 3, which just dropped this week, guest Mark Traphagen,  VP of Product Marketing and Training for SEOclarity, joined me to discuss the state of SEO and relevance for PR. Search continues to drive most website traffic, yet many in the PR field are unsure of how to leverage it for the best content and earned media results. Mark is an award-winning veteran of Internet and search marketing. He sheds light on the following questions and topics:

  • The latest updates to Google’s search algorithm
  • Blogging and website content for improved SEO and PR
  • Can startups displace the giants in search results?
  • Why good UX is so important
  • How to combine SEO and PR for the best results

We welcome suggestions for topics and speakers – so hope you enjoy it, and please chime in!

Posted in Agency news, Interviews, PR, Public Relations | Leave a comment

No, PR’s Not Dead Yet. Doing Just Fine Thanks! But Try Again Next Year

Many wish to continue to write off public relations and kick it to the curb – by coldly saying that the profession and/or its trappings are dead. First it was gripes about the press release, and in the latest example, a report that tech PR is dead, which I just read in Inc.

Yeah, I know, it makes for captivating clickbait. These kinds of “XXXX is Dead” hit jobs are perennial, evergreen stories that keep on cropping up, as sure as the calendar turns, not just about PR of course, but that is my peeve, so allow me to vent.

This slight may seem trivial compared to real life and death situations, but PR is my livelihood, and puts bread on the table for my family and 275K other people in the  industry  across the US, according to the BLS (2019 numbers; expected to grow by 7% annually through 2029, more on average than other professions). I’ve witnessed time and time again how a strategic and well-thought out PR program can bring real value to a business. 

So why have a blog with “revenge” in the name if I can’t get me some?  Or at least blog a strongly worded rebuttal.

Is the Press Release Truly Dead?

I was already in a crusty mood when I saw the Inc. piece because I had heard from a colleague that her journalist friend said the press release is dead. She wanted my thoughts, and is probably sorry that she asked, because I chided her and gave reading assignments from my blog (like this post and this one).

I wasn’t trying to shoot the messenger, after all, a reporter said those words.  But that does not impress me.  I mean, what journalist would admit to liking press releases, or relying on them, generally? Who’s going to rise to defend our industry’s punching bag, documents that seem cookie cutter, useless, all too often written poorly with trite, overly cheerful quotes and obscure buzz words?

I WILL, GODDAMNIT!!!!!!

Because just as soon as we have news without a press release, you’ll have a journalist who doesn’t think it’s real news if there’s no release.  You’ll have investors pining for potentially stock-moving PR news. You’ll have industry analysts wondering what’s been announced.  You’ll have end users searching in vain for the latest product news. 

And last I heard, the newswire business is doing well thank you, still a hearty institution supported by an ecosystem that generates, distributes and consumes the “news.”

But people have been saying press releases have been dead for years, since the advent of social media.  Since Silicon Valley Watcher reporter Tom Foremski wrote Die, Press Release, Die in 2008

People, the press release is just a conduit, a capsule.  In addition to that, it is a helpful tool for many journalists who really are asking for more information than a simple, pithy email pitch provides. Granted, there are other ways to share your update in today’s media landscape. But press releases still happen, and yes, they can be written well and tell great stories.

Is Tech PR Really Dead?

Then, I got my own unwelcome bit of non-press release news, via an Inc. piece that says Tech PR is Dead.  That really hits close to home.

People I know who work in this area would find that statement laughable.  Speaking for Fusion PR, we are in growth mode (and hiring, please spread the word!).  It is not just us. There is no shortage of competitors on our new business pitches, and other tech PR shops are doing quite well thank you, best I can gather.

So why even respond, and draw more attention to the article?  Well, it is Inc.  And there are enough truisms and smart sounding but inaccurate statements that could convince a casual reader.

The writer builds her argument by restating things that have been widely known for years, if not many years (there are shrinking newsrooms, fewer journalists, news cycles that are dominated by big news and brands, and increasing industry noise). She throws in a gratuitous “because of COVID.” These realities make it harder to earn media coverage.  

But the same trends can be applied to so many other industries. So, how to account for the bullish growth numbers for public relations more generally?

I submit that the tech PR field is growing too, due to the expansion of tech in every aspect of our lives and business. There’s an ongoing march of tech startups.  Some say that every company is a software or tech company

Indeed, Joan Westerberg writes:

“The demand for technology news is bigger than ever. There are more tech companies, more startups, and more VCs than ever before. The appetite is there. But it’s not a journalist’s job to create content for you; their job is to report on and cover the news.”

The last bit is insulting, I’m sorry, it just is.  Yes, it’s harder to rise above the noise, and interest journalists who cover tech – that is why you need professional help. But no one I know thinks that it is the journalist’s job to write puff pieces for clients.

Westerberg continues:

Your brand is not likely to cut through anymore… You don’t need to go broke on unnoticed PR campaigns when you can tell a captivating story online — and share your news with the press only when it’s news.”

The prescription? She advises to “tell better stories using owned and shared channels, like your website and social media… Make those channels shine. Appeal to more minor writers and content creators and partner with them.”

This sounds like warmed over content marketing advice from about five years ago. 

Her conclusion that the tech PR model is broken seems based on an outdated view of PR as simply media relations.  Since the latter is broken, tech PR is dead, the argument goes.

First, there is no monolithic “tech PR” model. Different shops offer different services. I don’t know of any agency that just does media relations, tech or otherwise. The arsenal has evolved to a service mix spanning content, strategy, digital, and others – some of the very things Westerberg advocates. 

It is true: the media still are front and center in PR (see this Muckrack survey).  However, the better PR shops are finding ways to deal with today’s challenges. I wrote about the enduring importance of media in the PR mix three years ago. It was true then and it is still true today.

Posted in In the News, Tech PR, Technology | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Introducing PR, Done and Doner!

We are proud to introduce PR: Done and Doner, a podcast that equips tech PR and marketing pros with the info needed to get the best possible results.

It is not just about mastering the changing world of earned media, although that is key part (and not getting any easier, most agree). We take a more expansive view, and understand that modern PR goes well beyond scoring press hits. To help companies succeed, the tech comms pro of today must have many more arrows in the quiver.

So, expect to see episodes that cover earned and paid media, content, messaging, reputation, positioning, branding, SEO, digital, analyst and influencer relations, and more – in an informative and easily digestible format with video and audio. (As you can probably guess by the title and art, it’s intended to be a fun, provocative, irreverent affair. Hopefully not too dumb; or overdone).

The show is hosted by Fusion PR principals (and tech PR veterans) Bob Geller and Jordan Chanofsky.  We’ll interview guest who are experts – renowned authors and practitioners who can shed light on the latest strategies, tactics and best practices.

You have PR questions?  We have answers: done! (And doner).

Episode 1: Maximizing Analyst Relations, with Robin Schaffer

In this episode, Bob Geller interviews Robin Schaffer, an industry analyst relations expert.  Her company Schaffer AR helps B2B tech companies maximize results with analysts and get top placement in their reports.  Here, Robin counters myths and misperceptions about analysts, and answers the most common questions asked by PR teams, such as:

  • When is the right time to hire an analyst firm?
  • What to invest and when?
  • Hire a big or boutique firm?
  • Is it pay for play?
  • They are miscategorizing us (or there is no category) – what to do?

PR, Done and Doner is available on Anchor, Spotify and other popular podcasting channels.

Posted in Agency news, Influencer marketing, Interviews, Tech PR | Tagged | Leave a comment

Osaka Episode puts Media, Sports and Celebrity on Trial

By now you have likely heard of the biggest news from the first days of the French Open this past weekend.  It was actually about no news, or rather the refusal of one of the shining stars to engage in press activities surrounding the event.

Instead of facing the media – and submitting to threats and fines – Naomi Osaka withdrew, citing depression, anxiety and fear of public speaking. She also said she did not want to become a distraction (and promptly became the main story).

The episode raises all kinds of questions.  What is an athlete’s obligation to the sport that helped make her a star (she’s the world’s highest paid female in sports)?  Should there be an exception to the rule that you must play the game (not tennis but the game of getting grilled by the press)? Do the media have an inalienable right to put athletes up against the wall at the pleasure of sports fans?

Like a bad movie, no one comes away looking good.  Many observers expressed sympathy, but as the New York Times reported:

Few of Ms. Osaka’s colleagues have shown unequivocal support for her stance.“Press and players and the tournaments comes hand in hand,” Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, said. “I think it’s very important in developing our sport, in promoting our sport.” She added that there were moments when the media did need to be more compassionate…

“Above all, it’s just really sad: for her, for the tournament, for the sport,” said Martina Navratilova, a former No. 1 who has seen plenty of tennis turmoil in her 50 years in the game. “She tried to sidestep or lessen a problem for herself and instead she just made it much bigger than it was in the first place.”

New York Times

I agree it is hard not to sympathize, Naomi Osaka is still young and is obviously suffering from some issues.

The sympathy is tempered by the fact that, while it seems she is taking a stand at great personal expense, others might not so easily be able to afford to do this.  Plus it seems a bit disingenuous to shun some media Q & A about the game, yet embrace brand endorsement deals that add to her public profile.  The Times wrote that she became a favored spokesmodel who doesn’t shy from using her platform for activism.

Another wrinkle: the newspaper reported that poor communications played a role. An agreement could have been negotiated quietly rather than the whole thing becoming a spectacle where a young champ felt as if she had no option but to unceremoniously leave the event.

Perhaps the one positive takeaway is the attention brought to mental health issues (especially in a COVID era) and the stresses that athletes face beyond competition.

What do you think? I asked the Fusion PR team. Here were some of their responses (their views and mine don’t necessarily reflect the agency’s).

I don’t think she should have to face the press.  She’s an athlete, not a public speaker.  It’s ridiculous. Plenty of athletes crave the media attention; let THEM speak to the press.

Mark

At this stage of professional sports – being a public figure comes with the turf.  She wouldn’t have had a chance at the endorsement deals without the pro career behind her – at this point though she can set the terms of her media engagements.  She’s become bigger than any one tournament.  That said, it’s probably a balancing act and she couldn’t go completely dark for too long. 

It’s like Elon Musk: there’s no shortage of press interest around him and he makes his own rules ; media won’t stop being interested.

Olga

My personal thoughts on this are that, while it does come with the territory of being a pro athlete, she is suffering. Most athletes are not like pop stars, or companies trying to build an audience. They are talented individuals who usually get thrust into the limelight and do not know how to handle it. I cannot imagine what it is like to go to work, do physical labor for hours depending on the match, and then having to get in front of a completely different audience and answer questions about your every move. It must be exhausting! I don’t think any athlete should have to speak to the press after a game. Let the ones who want to speak do so, but it should not be an obligation. 

Morgan

This whole thing reminds me of Marshawn Lynch (NFL running back, currently retired). As an NFL player, you are contractually obligated to speak to the media (or should I say “be available”). Lynch’s antics in this regard are well known…as there have been numerous times, even during the super bowl, that he would show up for press conferences only to just sit there for the minimum required amount of time and not answer any questions. The league made a lot of money fining him for this.

Brandon Marshall, another NFL player, is an advocate for mental health as he had his own issues with bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety.

Seth
Posted in Branding, Current Affairs, In the News, PR | Leave a comment

Another PR Rabbit Hole to Avoid: Obscure Analyst Reports

From Pixabay

I had blogged a while back about all those time wasters we sometimes run into; e.g. the deluge of pay-to-play offers you get right after releasing news over a wire. There’s another that has been bugging me and my teams: obscure analyst reports.

Luckily, our friend Robin Schaffer, of her namesake analsyt relations firm SchafferAR, helped us better understand the situation and avoid spinning wheels. See the Q & A below, from recent email exchange:

We track various segments our clients compete in, and want to know of and get into the right reports. But a challenge is wading through Google alerts triggered by report mills, like (I’m assuming) this one (in the area of quantum computing).

Some sites seem to just aggregate, syndicate, resell reports – but are there real analysts and research behind these?  Is it worth it to wade through and find out if it is real research?

Question

Nope.  These are crap and not relevant.  AR folks ignore them.  Very tempting because they provide insights on every possible market.But I have no idea where they get their data.   You have to go to the reputable analyst houses to identify the real research.A slog, but you need to.

Answer

Thanks, Robin!

Please check out my interview with her about maximizing analyst relations. Also, I am pleased to report that she’ll be one of the first guests on our upcoming video podcast series.

Posted in Networking, PR Tech, Public Relations | Leave a comment

You’re out of your Bleeping PR Head – or Should be

Working in PR seems the reverse of the old quote:

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

Groucho Marx

The club, or field of PR, can disdain those who want to join; particularly people so entrenched that they lack little “real world” experience.

For example  I started interviewing for PR gigs in my late thirties, after taking a circuitous route through  various sales, marketing and IT consulting roles.  When all was said and done PR seemed to be my thing, so I set out to interview for client-side and agency gigs while picking up some freelancing business.

I had no idea what kind of opportunities awaited for someone with my eclectic background.  But the comments were mostly positive.  “Refreshing!” “We like to see other kinds of experience, not just PR.”  One in particular, the owner of a boutique tech PR agency was thrilled that I was an electrical engineer and former IBM-er like him.  Fusion CEO Jordan Chanofsky made me an offer over 20 years ago – and I am still here today. (The funny thing was, that soon after I joined, I felt out of my element, due to lack of experience working for an agency).

All these years later I can safely say that, if you want to work in PR, sure, it is great to have related experience.  But thinking outside the PR box can make you better at your job, as I find many myopically see every situation as a PR challenge that demands a PR solution.

What does this mean, and why should we think out of our  “bleeping PR heads?”  Which other POVs can be valuable?

The Gatekeeper

One of the most obvious POVs to consider is the gatekeeper, or journalist. Yet too many PR people don’t do this well.

Why? Thinking like a good journalist is critical for PR; it’s important to be inquisitive, a good storyteller, and yes, often skeptical.

Why is it a challenge? It is much easier to mass blast a pitch than take the time to read their stuff and personalize the approach. Also, we like to be optimistic and not focus on the long odds. That said, sending and praying, optimistically, is not good; or is falling in love with your own ideas and pitches.

How to do better? Read their articles. Follow them on social media.  Be as skeptical as they are.  Realize you have to be smart and creative, and work hard to earn their attention.  Dig for something press-worthy. Get to know them, this makes it easier to understand their story appetites and sourcing criteria.

Results: Pitches that hit home, better PR outcomes, stronger journalist relationships.

The Buyer and User Audiences

Unsplash, Martino Pietropoli

It can help to see things from the perspective of the audiences we target: the personas who use the company’s product or service, and those who influence the purchasing decision. We reach them directly on social media or through gatekeepers. 

Why? If the news and content we promote does not resonate, our PR efforts will fall on deaf ears. And, guess what: aligning with the hot topics and pain points of end users can be key to journalist buy-in, because ideally you are targetting those who write for these audiences.

Why a Challenge? Most PR people don’t have hands-on experience with the often esoteric technologies. We’re not steeped in the lives, routines and perceptions of users, CIOs and other decision-makers. 

Even if you work on the client/industry side, it’s a fair bet that you suffer from the isolation of the marketing department. The result is an overreliance on jargon and copy-and-paste writing, a challenge that I described in Finding the Words that Work in Tech PR:

There’s a trap I think some of my tech PR  colleagues fall into.  In an effort to sound savvy and speak in the language of the targeted audience… they rely on recycled, empty (but “safe”) prose that may have originated in the marketing department…  Add to this that internal marketing staff and the agency may well not have the technical knowledge or familiarity of the markets they are serving to pick the words that resonate with customers and prospective customers. 


How to See it from their PoV: Try to understand the worlds they inhabit.  Bounce ideas off of friends who work in the field.  Try out the tech, if you can. Take in demos, attend conferences. Avoid gobbledy gook puke, use words and tell stories that are more meangful and impactful.

Results: Better stories and business outcomes.

The Strategist

Our PR programs are part of the larger marketing and business picture for our clients. Our clients and employers compete in the larger world.  So if you don’t heed the bigger picture, your counsel and programs will be less effective. It is important to think like a CMO or military strategist – to be aware of tools in the arsenal, the playing field and plan accordingly.

Why a challenge?

From Pixabay

It takes research and effort to stay up-to-date, with the competition and other marketing tools and strategies. And, let’s face it, most of us do not have the POV that comes with working as a CMO or military strategist.

How to do better

Get smart about other marketing tools, tech and tactics. Understand how PR interplays with others in the mix. Research the market, follow the plays of the competition.

Read the classic and trendy books in marketing, the ones that marketers and CEOs wave around. There are so many good ones. Some of my faves include Marketing Warfare, by Ries and Trout; Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore; Play Bigger, by Ramadan, Peterson, Lochhead and Maney; and Blue Ocean Strategy, by Kim and Mauborgne.

Results: Better counsel and marketing integration, and more impactful storytelling.

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From Breakthrough IP to Market Leadership

Here is the third installment in my series about maximizing “secret sauce” in tech marketing.

In the first post, I explored the meaning and history of the term, and shared examples. In the next one, I outlined steps to turn your core IP into a PR asset, and included case studies.

I thought I’d wrap the series with a few final thoughts, as well as one more case study.

To Brand or Not to Brand

If your secret  sauce is so special, and can really make your company a market beater, why not  give it a name?

You need to call it something. In the second post, I explained how to describe your IP in simple and clear terms (see the case study below for another example). But you will not always have the chance to use a long form description. Some companies use brands, i.e. trademarkable names, and others, more general terms.

Google PageRank is an example of the former. Regarding generic phrases, consider Amazon’s one-click ordering, and Identiq’s provider-less trust network.

There are tradeoffs regarding branded names vs. generic labels.  Startups need to weigh the overhead of establishing and supporting multiple brands vs. the potential benefits of a catchy term that they can own.

And don’t  think a great name alone is enough (see my example about Certs and Retsyn in the first post; giving a fancy name to a common ingredient worked for breath mints back in the day, likely not for tech companies today).

Making it a Verb, Playing Bigger

The ultimate is when your product or technology is so widely adopted that it becomes synonymous with that function or kind of product – sometimes even becoming a verb. Think Google or Xerox.  This NY Times article explains how a brand name becomes generic.

In my first installment, I mentioned companies that parlayed core technologies into market leadership – like Cisco, with routing tech, Google, with Page Rank, and others. How did they do this? 

Sure, it starts with great technology, of the proverbial disruptive variety. But you also need steadfast, focused execution and marketing to become a category king.  I blogged about this approach, that was inspired by the book Play Bigger.

Check out the good folks at Category Design Advisors and Play Bigger; two consulting firms who can help your company turn your core tech into market leadership.

Mipsology (Deep learning inference acceleration)

Mipsology’s core tech, built into its Zebra software, makes it possible to run neural network deep learning models developed for popular Nvidia GPUs on other kinds of chips.

This means models that have been “trained” (fed large data sets to teach computers how to make decisions in “the wild” from new data) on Nvidia can run flawlessly on FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips– which offer certain advantages in terms of flexibility, lifespan, and tolerance of environmental factors.

Challenges

Most who work in and write about AI understand the importance of inference acceleration.  That’s because the NN models are ineffective if they’re too slow making decisions in real-world situations (just consider the need for speed when it comes to vision intelligence for real-time guidance in robotics, telesurgery and autonomous vehicles).

However fewer understand the nuances of neural network models on GPUs vs. FPGAs. And it seemed a tall order to explain how Mipsology can take a model developed for Nvidia and accelerate inference on a Xilinx (or other) FPGA – without the need for any additional programming. Plus, the Mipsology executive team was concerned that the company would tip its hand to the competition by trying to explain this.

Instead, we focused on the functionality and drew an analogy to CUDA, Nvidia’s own, wildly popular translation layer that makes it easy to run programs on their own chips, as covered in EE Times:

“The best way to see [Mipsology] is that we do the software that goes on top of FPGAs to make them transparent in the same way that Nvidia did Cuda CuDNN to make the GPU completely transparent for AI users,” said Mipsology CEO Ludovic Larzul, in an interview with EE Times.

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Turn Your Secret Sauce into a PR Asset with these 4 Steps

In my last post I explained the history and significance of secret sauce, or IP, in tech marketing. I also laid out the challenges of getting PR mileage from your core tech.

To summarize, “secret sauce” underpins a solution or component.  This almost magical ingredient has given bragging rights to scores of companies over decades.  

But promoting the underlying tech is not the same as hyping a finished product.  It may be unclear how it can advance your PR goals.

Secrets can build curiosity if you toss out a few crumbs. But the tension must break at some point.  Even if you convince a journalist that there’s something pretty cool under the hood, they will get weary of the dance unless you show more cards (am I mixing enough metaphors here?) Say too much, and your competitors can rip it off.

In this post, I explore the steps needed to overcome these challenges and turn this asset into a PR advantage.

1. Take Stock of Your IP and its Potential

The best way to understand the tech is to just ask.  The answers from this kind of discovery can inform everything from messaging, positioning, branding, website, collateral and so on, not just press releases.

E.g., when we sit down with a tech startup we ask:

  • Tell us about your core tech
  • How/when was it developed?
  • What was the “Eureka moment” that led to it?
  • How does it reflect your team’s expertise?
  • Does it build on anything else (like open source)?
  • Has your team published academic papers about the IP?
  • Does it give you a competitive advantage?
  • Is it patented/protected?

You need to ask, because the founders may take their core tech for granted and want to jump right to telling the world how great their product or solution is.

It is not just about fact finding – but teasing out the cool, to help turn a dry story about technology into something really interesting.

2. Hitting the Sauce

Hopefully you are realizing that this kind of info can be very helpful – and not just for hyping the secret ingredient.

The IP often reflects the company and team’s DNA. Knowing more about their R&D and tech chops can inform story-telling and thought leadership efforts and become part of the larger company narrative.

From there it depends on how relevant the technology is to the company’s goals.  If it is aligned and provides a competitive advantage, all the more reasons to double down.

Like real sauce, the tech has a shelf life.  If the company has pivoted, then the original tech may be less relevant.  Or perhaps the vendor has gone on to conquer new markets and launch different offerings – then, the original IP may be less relevant.

It is hard to cover all possibilities but let me list a few ways below to overcome challenges and leverage secret sauce in your marketing.

3. How Much to Say and When (To Baste or not to Baste?)

The best time to flaunt it is at the beginning and throughout the first few years of a startup’s journey.

How big a deal should you make over secret sauce, vs. other things you could be talking about?  Why say anything?

To the extent that IP explains your advantages vs. the competition, then it boosts credibility.  Plus, there’s the good old “gee whiz” factor, if it’s just really cool tech and a breakthrough. 

Some are afraid to talk about the core IP for competitive reasons. I think that fear is overblown. First, if you’ve gotten patents, it is for all intents and purposes public info that anyone can look up. If you haven’t, you need to weigh the risks of discussing the tech vs. holding the cards close.  Assuming you are willing to share details, they should be woven into the messaging and storytelling.

It is not a binary decision, either.  You can dance around it and share some details without giving so much away that it can be reverse engineered.

4. Explaining the Unexplainable (Simmering the Sauce)

If you are with me so far, and want to open up the sauce spigot, the next question is how to do this, especially when the underlying technology may be very hard to explain and understand.

All kinds of content can help. PowerPoints, white papers and academic papers should be provided to those who want to dig deeper and really understand. But it is not a great idea to leave this to chance. Your success in communicating with journalists, who may not be tech wonks, will hinge on breaking your tech down in simpler terms. 

Do this well and the IP becomes shorthand for the company’s differentiators.

How to explain at a high level depends on what you have.  Typical tools include demos, explainer videos, analogies and metaphors. While a deep dive into translating technology is beyond the scope of the post, perhaps a couple of mini-case studies will help.

ThetaRay: Threat detection for banking 

Secret sauce challenges:

ThetaRay is on the cutting edge: their proprietary machine learning and AI algorithms process massive amounts of data, and glean intelligence about the “unknown unknowns” – threats that are anomalous – without historical context, regardless of the type of data.

How it does this is hard to explain.  The claims sound almost too good to be true. Plus, there is much noise, competition and growing skepticism about AI.  Most solutions are “black boxes” that are inscrutable and sometimes accused of bias.

Solutions:

We provided many ways for the media to validate and better understand ThetaRay’s tech, ranging from videos to white papers and even demos (unlike many others, their solution is “explainable AI” and not a black box).

It helped to flaunt the reputations and academic papers of founders and world-renowned mathematicians Amir Averbuch (Tel Aviv University) and Ronald Coifman (Yale); and highlight the years of research behind the secret sauce.

To explain at a high level, we positioned their tech as Artificial Intuition, as written in this TNW piece.

 [Artificial intuition] … enables computers to identify threats and opportunities without being told what to look for, just as human intuition allows us to make decisions without specifically being instructed on how to do so.  It’s similar to a seasoned detective who can enter a crime scene and know right away that something doesn’t seem right, or an experienced investor who can spot a coming trend before anybody else.

TNW

Identiq: Anti-fraud privacy protection for e-commerce

Secret sauce challenges:

Identiq aims to stop the rampant propagation of personal info and combat consumer fraud through a “provider-less trust network” that validates customer identity for e-commerce companies without sharing, sending or storing PII (personally identifiable information).

They employ cryptography to make sure the person applying for a mortgage or setting up a customer account is who they say they are.  Identiq obviates the need for third party data clearinghouses (like credit bureaus) to do this.

If members of the Identiq network validate the ID it can be proven, to a high degree of mathematical certainty, that the person is the real deal, and not a fraudster with stolen credentials.

The problem is that it is maddeningly difficult to explain cryptography, and convince people that Identiq can help e-tailers confirm a person’s identity – without sharing or storing any details. 

Solutions:

We used a number of tools to explain Identiq; from videos to comparisons with online auctions to dumbed down explanations, like “Bob and Bill both have a number in mind, and they want to know whether it is the same, but they don’t want each other to know what number they have.  So, they tell Steve, a third party.  Steve can then tell them whether they have the same number, without telling either of them what each other has.”

Tech Republic covered it here:

The idea is to make it easy for companies to identify who their new customers are through a “network of trust”… They can do that without sharing the customer’s personal information…
“We looked into a branch of cryptography called multi-party computation, which is over 30 to 40 years old,” Arad said. “This branch deals with the question of how multiple parties can calculate some function together without revealing their own individual inputs.”

For example, if you were conducting an online auction, every participant can make a bid and multi-party computation can allow the participants to find out who the winner is without revealing individual bids, he said.

Tech Republic

It helped to cite a renowned cryptography wonk:

Ran Canetti, professor of Computer Science at Boston University and the recipient of many awards including the RSA Award for Excellence in Mathematics and the IBM Research Outstanding Innovation Award, explained the cryptographic context behind the anonymity of the [Identiq] network. He discussed why a technique which had been established in academic circles for decades had recently emerged to tackle real-life challenges.

Professor Ran Canetti

We also established credibility by naming the global brands who are rallying around Identiq.

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