On Tuesday afternoon I attended a fascinating discussion, the first of many, on Building a Better Commonwealth. In the wonderful setting of the Paramount Theater, the Boston Globe hosted a panel discussion as well as remarks from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick., focusing on retaining talent here. I'm not going to go into all the nuts and bolts here, you can read that elsewhere, but coming out of this I had several overall thoughts.
Let me start by pointing out that I chose Massachusetts, and not without cost. Raising children without grandparents can be tough, especially for the little things. As an example, on Wednesday evening my wife was preparing for trial and I had to be in Framingham at 5:30. Meanwhile, my middle son had a baseball game, as well as Chinese tutoring, my daughter was at aftercare and my oldest was finishing his homework. Everyone needed dinner. My friends lucky enough to have local grandparents often are able to have an extra set of hands to step in when these situations arise, but for us, we needed to first build a support network of friends who also have distant families, then call on them to do things like pick my son up from school and get him to the game.
That said, my wife and I have both opened businesses here, we bought property here, we pay taxes here and we employ people here. We want to see Massachusetts utilize all its resources, especially the "talent" resource as pointed out by Governor Patrick. Still, several pieces of the discussion bugged me.
- Who is having the discussion? -- Nearly everyone who stood up and spoke noted that they came from somewhere else. Jason Evanish of Greenhorn Connect moved from Pennsylvania (his thoughts on the event); I'm originally from New York (though, my mother grew up in Roxbury and Newton); Bobbie Carlton hails from upstate New York; Scott Kirsner cut his teeth in Florida; Trish Karter graduated high school in Connecticut; and even Governor Patrick joked about the differences between his hometown in the midwest and his neighbors in Milton. To be fair, some of the panelists, like Paul English, grew up in Massachusetts. Still, I'm wondering if the discussion on "cultivating talent" is really a discussion among transplants who want to bring in other people like themselves. Or perhaps it speaks to the changing demographics of Massachusetts. To the outside world we look like the state portrayed in The Departed or The Fighter: working class, unintelligible accents, tough... But the Massachusetts I know is very different. My wife is from Pennsylvania, my next door neighbors from Israel, two doors down is a couple born in Germany, go a bit further and you find a woman from France and her husband from Haiti. The joke in Watertown is that you can tell a newcomer because their parents didn't attend Watertown High, but my personal Massachusetts looks much different.
- The Rent is Too Damn High! -- The event opened with a map of Massachusetts, but the discussion centered on Boston and Cambridge, leading many to decry that "the Rent is too Damn High!" To her credit, Diane Hessen knocked it down saying that people ignore the cost of living in New York if they get a good job. And she's right. But that being said, I want to throw in that the rent is, in fact, too damn high IF you want to live in a trendy neighborhood. You can find deals elsewhere in the Commonwealth, especially in places with a wonderful urban infrastructure. Take a look at places like Lowell or New Bedford. I'm sure Springfield would LOVE an influx of younger talent to build and grow businesses. Which leads nicely to my next point...
- Who the Hell is this "Gen Y"? -- I get annoyed at these generational discussions. In listening to Nadira Hira I got the distinct impression that she was taking overall cultural shifts in US attitudes and attributing them entirely to a specific age group. She noted how they look at families differently and want a work/life balance. Hey, news flash, so do I. So do most of my friends. And we fall into the GenX demographic that she termed "bitter."
Still, one thing I do see in people in Massachusetts today, both youngish and older-ish, is a willingness to start their own companies and blaze a new career path. So why not take the complaints we heard about the local infrastructure and apply them to businesses?
Feel that there isn't enough of a music scene? Start a music venue. Can't get space in Cambridge? Try Waltham or Lowell or Springfield or New Bedford or Allston or JP or Mission Hill. Feel that the T doesn't run late enough? Start a transportation company designed to run between 2am and 6am that mimics the T routes. If the demand exists then so does the business.
As for the talent in the Commonwealth, we need to take our entrepreneurial spirit and apply it to companies that aren't just in tech, but create a better life for everyone.
InkHouse PR hosted a fascinating online discussion on Wednesday about the fate of the embargo. Hosted by Beth Monaghan, it included insights from Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick, Xconomy's Wade Roush, the Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner and USA Today's Jon Swartz.
If I were to sum up the whole discussion in a phrase it would come down to this: size matters. I'll get back to that.
The most interesting tidbit, however, was throw-away line from all four reporters that they don't bother with the press release wires. One reporter said he hadn't looked at BusinessWire or PR Newswire in about seven years. Wade noted that he sometimes uses it for archive purposes.
Even Beth seemed surprised at that answer. Of course, this is a long way from saying that the press release is dead. Kirsner, for example, still runs them on his "Read Scott's Email" page (though, obviously just a selection of those he receives) and reporters routinely ask me for them.
In fact, all four reporters noted that Twitter has become their news feed. Something reinforced just a short time later when Shaq announced his retirement on Twitter (with an associated video). Sorry ESPN, Shaq doesn't need your audience.
Twitter being a primary news feed for reporters is, on some level, a "no duh" moment. It is, in fact, pretty awesome and shows the power of Twitter both as a medium unto itself as well as its influence over "mainstream media." While Twitter is certainly not nearly as popular as Facebook, it is certainly influential. But that also leads to a number of concerns:
- Twitter has a high signal-to-noise ratio -- Filtering Twitter to find the good stuff is a major hassle. Personally, I use Twitter lists (both public and private) to select information I want to find. I know that popular stuff rises to the top, but quite often I'll look at an individual's feed and find that I missed something interesting that happened weeks ago. How do reporters filter? What does this mean for their reporting?
- Reporters can easily insulate themselves from information -- They can limit themselves to the people they follow as well as a few search terms. That's not everyone. Also, as mentioned above, Twitter is just a subset of a much larger population. Is it truly representative? In the tech world, maybe, but the broader world?
- Twitter has a "blink and you missed it" issue -- information on Twitter rots very fast. My main feed scrolls by so fast to render it useless.
Still, it's the reality. A while back Bianca Bosker, tech editor at the Huffington Post, told me that she has two monitors on her desk: one is email, web browser and everything she needs for her job; the other runs Tweetdeck all day. Do the math, the power of being in her news feed and therefore winding up in one of her posts will pay off huge dividends in traffic.
As a related note, Kirkpatrick noted that the best way to get on his radar is to send him your RSS feed so he can follow it. He follows a massive number of blogs, but if being in front of the top editor at a top publication is important, then you need to keep your feed filled with information as to show up on his radar.
But what about the embargo? Well, Kirkpatrick loves them noting that it helps level the playing field so he has time to do his own reporting. As a smaller organization this is important to him, allowing him to compete with much larger and more well-funded organizations, like TechCrunch. The other reporters tended to take a much dimmer view of embargoes, Roush won't bother with them at all and Swartz prefers not to deal with them either, but Kirsner admitted that he'd take them if the news was big enough.
Frankly, that came up a few times. If the news is big enough, or the company issuing it is big enough, the "no embargo" policy flies out the window. It was mentioned that even TechCrunch would take an embargo from those companies and simply break it 15 minutes early, just because they can.
So, in this sense, size matters. When the PR team has the power they'll use it (and get their way), when the journalist has the power they'll use it to avoid taking the embargo. The topic of offering exclusives came up as an alternative, but all the reporters were uncomfortable with that, saying it makes them feel as if they're being controlled by the PR machine.
My take on all this remains the same. Most of my clients are smaller and tend to be more concerned about getting coverage than about timing it. So while we would bring news out to reporters and prebrief them, I'd rarely put them under embargo. Of course, sometimes the client wants the assurance, so you do it. But I believe the news must be big enough to warrant it, and that's a judgement call.
So what does this all mean? Well, a few things:
- A news release isn't enough -- You need a content plan to make things work. Yes, a news release can help (and still does drive SEO as well as some coverage from vertical publications) but if your goal is bigger coverage you need more.
- Build relationships -- This goes for all influencers, online and off. Reporters are part of the influence chain.
- Integrate content -- Your blog is your friend. Your Twitter feed is your friend. Use them, build them.
- Finally: if you have real news by all means put it out. Reporters are smart, they know when it's something real and when it isn't.... mostly.
With apologies to Tom Foremski.
I'm happy to announce that our own Chuck Tanowitz will moderate next Wednesday's Social Media Club Boston event on "Hyper-Local, Hyper-Social, Hyper-Competitive: The New Journalism," hosted by IDG and Sponsored by IDG and BusinessWire. As a passionate, engaged and opinionated follower of the profession, not to mention a former journalist, Chuck was a perfect fit for this panel.
From the front line to the local coffee shop to the courthouse, journalism faces pressure not only to remain profitable, but to remain relevant. Join this panel of journalists for an in-depth discussion of the pressures and possibilities facing the journalism profession today.
His panelists will include:
- Ed Medina (@surfermedina), Director of Multimedia Development, Boston Globe and Boston.com
- Kristin Burnham (@kmburnham), Staff Writer, CIO.com
- Tom Langford (@tom_langford), Reporter, NECN
- Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman), New Media Contributor, NESN.com
Hope to see you there!
Fresh Ground is proud to be a media partner of this upcoming event, alongside the Social Media Club Boston!
Following their sold out event in San Francisco with speakers from Facebook, Zappos, Dunkin’ Donuts and much more, GSMI has decided to bring the 2011 Social Media Strategies Summit to the East Coast. They've gathered more of the best and brightest speakers in the social media marketing arena to present emerging strategies, tactics and case studies in the successful use of social media. This event reveals how leading brands use social media to consolidate and expand their market share, as well as, gain valuable market data.
Hope to see you there!