Let me explain: the theory goes that if you have a good product or a good story, then you'll get exposure. People who report the news will find you, they'll do the digging and the work to grab the important nuggets of information and present those to you.
You believe that? Really? Are you sure?
I've had reporters tell me that they believed a certain topic was very important to their readers, but they couldn't report on it because they just didn't have time. I've gone to others with a story and been asked "can you just send the release?" Then a story would appear without any interview or additional reporting. Is this the fault of the PR pro?
All agreed that truth is a major casualty of modern reporting. McNamara lamented the fact that today's reporters don't seem to do research in their own archives. They lamented the use of Beltway Insiders who regularly offer up quotes just to provide a story with "the other side" of an issue.
But Dan Kennedy made the point that sometimes sources have one key selling point: they return calls when you're on deadline.
This is a real problem in political reporting. It's also a problem in technology PR. Too often reporters take on the easy story. Audrey Watters, in writing why she left Read Write Web, noted that no one seems to care about Education Technology. This is a huge story overall, something that impacts not just parents and students, but our future as a nation. She writes:
What I learned -- and what I continue to be reminded of with unfortunate frequency: the tech blogosphere really doesn't notice education stories. Not really. Not unless teachers do something untoward on a blog. Not unless a tech CEO, past or present, makes a major education-oriented donation. Not unless there's an rumored iPhone 5 angle involved.
Back at the forum, when I stood up to ask a question, I mentioned that I work in PR. A woman laughed. Yes, she LAUGHED. Yet, everyone in that room had been subject to PR at that moment and didn't know it. The forum itself was an attempt to raise the visibility and importance of Suffolk Law School, especially among its alumni. That's because Suffolk operates in a competitive environment that includes Harvard, BU and BC, all with law schools that have strong alumni networks. As a proof point, consider that Greg Gatlin, a former Boston Herald staffer and current PR flack for the school, was on the panel.
So who is at fault for the lousy and lazy journalism? Is it the journalists? Is it their editors? Is it the PR people who feed them crap?
No. It's us, the media consumers.
You see, reporters write stories that get them noticed, stories that will satisfy their editors. Editors are under pressure to satisfy their bosses, the publishers. They need to drive traffic to the website, grab clicks, gain conversation, build "mindshare" and all those other marketing things. They do this by writing stories that are attractive to an audience.
If you write about the iPad, your clicks go up. If you write about education technology, you can hear the crickets. Write about large constitutional issues, no one cares. Write about Rush Limbaugh and you're front and center.
So, do you want to blame PR folks for being stupid? Sure, go ahead. Want to blame reporters for being lazy? Feel free.
But next time you click on a headline, think about why you're doing it and what really matters to you. Then consider if you really want to click there.
Fresh Ground is sponsoring two events in the Somerville/Cambridge area over the next few days that we'd love to see you at!
I'm very proud to be a featured speaker (well, technically a "drill instructor") at this Thursday's New Economy Boot Camp. The event is designed to help business owners and managers find new ways to market smarter –- not just cheaper -- using a mix of traditional and social media marketing techniques. These Boot Camps will be held quarterly through out New England. And, you get to see me dressed up in cammies...
Survival Training How to Execute & Evaluate a Successful Social Media Program
Todd Van Hoosear, Principal, Fresh Ground
I'm also proud to be an organizer (and the PR manager) for TEDxSomerville, taking place this Sunday, March 4th! Our own C. Todd Lombardo was featured on Greater Somerville talking about the event! The video is below, in which he explains the history and overview of TED, TEDx and TEDxSomerville.
In The Devil Wears Prada there's this wonderful scene in which Meryl Streep tries to decide on a belt. Anne Hathaway, as her assistant snickers at the prospect of deciding between two belts that look very similar. What she receives next is a smack-down.
"You think this has nothing to do with you," Streep's Miranda Priestly says. She then launches into an evenly-delivered soliloquy that points out how the "blue" sweater Hathaway casually chose that morning is actually "cerulean," which had started at the height of fashion then trickled down through the fashion ecosystem representing "millions of dollars and countless jobs," until it landed in a discount bin and, eventually, this assistant's closet. "It sort of comical how you think you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that's been selected for you..." she says.
Here in Boston engineers love to think that they make all the best stuff. That their technology is so great it doesn't need marketing. Because marketing doesn't make people take action. No, they say, it's the work that makes all the difference. Make a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Someone call Meryl Streep.
Often we dismiss this attitude as "well, they're just engineers" and we let it go. The issues trickle down even to those companies that do spend time and money on marketing. They resist messaging, insist they know how to tell a better story or refuse changes that could make a huge difference in their bottom line. It's all an effort to put technology first.
Ideally, they need to invest in marketing and PR. It needs to be factored into the funding rounds as a necessary part of the budget, even in small rounds.
Then there is the "celebrity" factor. Boston tends to shy away from that, but as a number of entrepreneurs point out in the Sunday Boston Globe, that's just what Boston needs. Says Ben Jabbawy, CEO of Privy:
Chances are if you’re not part of the tech community here, you’ve never heard of Wayfair or Gemvara. And that’s the problem. The Boston area needs to do a better job championing its little guys. We don’t have many giant anchor companies here, and oftentimes that’s understood to be a bad thing. Instead of collectively pining for Mark Zuckerberg to return to the Hub, we should focus on, promote, and celebrate the assets we do have: smaller companies and start-ups.
This shift in emphasis would help start-ups recruit and retain local graduates, and perhaps inspire graduating talent to take the risk of joining a start-up instead of taking lucrative corporate jobs.
So what does Boston need? We need to think more about marketing. We need to make our voices louder. In a way, we need our own "Mike Arrington" to lead the way.
Whenever I say this to people their response is "oh, we need a loud, arrogant, obnoxious guy that makes everyone fear his power?" No, I'm not saying that. But what we need is someone with the voice, skills and savvy to tell the world what Boston is all about. To hold up the great technology, ideas and companies that grow from the Boston ecosystem every day and tell the world why they need to pay attention. If this means that voice needs to be brash and obnoxious in order to cut through the clutter, then so be it.
Recently I spent some time hanging around with the guys at Evernote. This is a fascinating company made up of leadership that spent time running startups in Boston and then moved to the Valley. The company is growing like crazy and poised to make a leap from the technology world to the general populous. This is no small task.
Josh Kopelman recently spent some time in jury duty and used that as a way to get a focus group of non-tech folks:
Jury duty is a great way to do a focus group - out of my panel of 50 people, no one has heard of Pinterest, Foursquare,Uber or Square...
Facebook is a great example of a company that made the leap, same with Apple (which doesn't consider itself a tech company) and Google. But what makes Evernote interesting is how marketing is so much a part of its DNA. Yes, Andrew Sinkov does a great job of marketing the company. He's an incredibly smart guy a lot of great ideas. But it's also a company churning out apps like Evernote Food and releasing Skitch for free as a way to extend its base.
If you listen to CEO Phil Libin speak, he doesn't tell you about the technology behind Evernote, he talks about bigger ideas of human memory and ways that technology can make our lives different. Sure, he spends time thinking about the technology itself, but the average person doesn't care about the technology. They just want it to do what you asked. They want a product.
But to get it in their hands, you need marketing. And so do we.
The "Who is a Journalist?" debate came back at the end of 2011 when Montana blogger Crystal Cox lost a Federal Case focusing on an Oregon law that protects journalists from having to reveal sources. Cox had been sued for defamation by attorney Kevin Padrick in regards to stories she wrote about the bankruptcy of Obsidian Finance Group LLC. She relied on anonymous sources.
A federal judge ruled that under Oregon law, she did not qualify as a journalist. This of course, sent the journalistic and blogging communities into a tizzy about definitions (until they figured out that Cox was a bit on the edge and, frankly, not much of a journalist at all). This isn't a new debate, it's been around since bloggers started writing online.
That's the wrong debate. Journalism is a profession, it's a way of thinking. It's never been clearly defined, but you know it when you see it. Kind of like the classic definition of pornography. Can a blogger be a journalist? Sure, if they are doggedly pursuing truth, working sources, checking facts and, as Pulitzer would say, "shining a light into the darkest corners."
By the same token, many paid reporters are no more journalists than typists.
Former Ambassador Joe Wilson is on a speaking tour with his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, talking about what the two of them went through during the debate about going to war in Iraq. I'm not going to rehash the whole story here, but in his talk Wilson made a simple point: journalists didn't do their jobs.
He points out how journalists wrote a narrative about he and his wife that was fed to them by people in power, while ignoring a much more important story about whey the US was entering a war and why the President put words into the State of the Union address that, on the surface, were simply untrue. The question is why? Why did reporters chase the Wilsons while not doing the harder and more "journalistic" work?
Dan Gillmor makes a similar argument in his wonderful book Mediactive, in which he calls the Washington press corps little more than "stenographers" in their coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
I head a wonderful debate on the subject at Social Media Weekend during a discussion about Occupy Wall Street and Press Credentials. The issue here became pretty simple to understand, but complicated to solve. The NYPD issues press credentials so they can provide the right access to the right people. But not every person working full-time for a journalistic organization has them. Also, they take a while to get (one reporter applied for credentials in October and still hasn't been "screened." So when police started to arrest protesters, "journalists" were caught in the roundup. Still, were they journalists or were they participants?
Andrea Courtois over at WBZ TV (@AndreaWBZ on Twitter) told me that she stopped following quite a number of reporters because, she felt, they became too involved in the movement, killing their objectivity.
Then there is Josh Stearns, who tracked journalist arrests during the Occupy movements. Part of his issue was simply defining which of those arrested were, in fact, journalists. Even on the panel itself some people who worked for journalistic organizations like MSNBC or the Daily News went to the site to check things out during off-hours. In other words, they weren't acting on behalf of their organizations when they started acting like journalists. So, in that moment, what were they?
What does it all mean?
In my opinion the main issue comes down to the inherent tension between journalism's "purpose" and its reward structure. Press freedoms are, in many ways, a necessary offshoot of democracy. The populous can't make intelligent voting decisions unless it has information by which to make those decisions. However, publishing is a business, one that sells advertising and subscriptions. Information has value if people WANT to consume it. Citizen journalists fill some of this gap, but where will we the people get our information on a regular basis? How will we vet what comes in? What information can we trust?
We, as media consumers, prove again and again that we are far more interested in being entertained than informed. We do it every day by clicking on TMZ rather than Global Post. We follow entertainers in striking numbers on Twitter, but leave intelligent, thoughtful people alone.
Throughout my career companies have asked for coverage. They know what they want to say, they know what they want to promote, they know the sales figures they want to meet. They know they need PR.
They just aren't sure why.
Todd likes to say that the best thing about social media and modern PR is that you can measure everything. Oh, and the worst thing about social media and PR is that you can measure everything.
His point is that you may not be measuring the right thing.
Many of our clients focus on a single but very important measurement: website traffic. That is, does a media hit (online or offline) result in website traffic? There are multiple ways to measure this, whether it's looking at referrals, measuring traffic from a geographic location, looking at traffic numbers from a day with coverage versus a similar time period, or including twitter traffic generated by a particular piece of coverage. It can all go into that measurement.
But not every piece of media will drive traffic. For example, we've put clients in the big city publications that used to make clients drool, only to see little or no discernible traffic spike. The reason is simple: some big publications just don't provide links. No links, no traffic. Asking people to take an action (searching on a company name or finding a website) is a barrier to results.
So the question becomes, if a piece of coverage doesn't drive traffic, is it effective?
The answer isn't so simple.
Let's take the work we did for TeraDiode, a laser manufacturer in Littleton, Mass. As part of our outreach Xconomy's Greg Huang wrote a great piece. Thanks to some great writing that piece got "slashdotted."
If you just look at the traffic numbers, SlashDot drove quite a bit of traffic, though it tended to be low quality. Most of the users bounced and few knew anything about the type of lasers TeraDiode is in the business of building.
But that SlashDot hit helped the story get picked up by a number of other publications, like PhysOrg and R&D Magazine. The traffic from those sites had low bounce rates, high pages per visit and resulted in whitepaper downloads. It also caught the eye of a reporter at Jane's Defence Weekly, a primary target. It should be noted that Jane's doesn't include links in its coverage.
So, was SlashDot worth it? Yes, if you measure its broad impact, not just its direct impact.
Of course, most media programs won't have that kind of turnaround. A mention in a broad publication like the Boston Globe or Newsweek may not result in immediate impact. But its ancillary benefits include third-party validation and helping build credibility so you can gain bigger or more relevant coverage.
To get there, you need to plan for the long-run.
So what are the takeaways here?
Know what you're measuring -- Yes, you can easily measure site visits, but that may not be your only goals. You may also be looking for venture funding or doing some recruiting. You may simply be looking to build awareness. Different hits have different purposes and need to be measured with a different yardstick.
Have realistic expectations -- A single "hit" in a widely read publication isn't going to bring you thousands of new users. You need to keep your information flowing, both through your own content and by sharing others. Your primary goal is to build an audience, not just gain a short-term bump.
Know where PR Fits In -- Influencer relations is a part of the traffic-driving puzzle, but if you don't have a way to capture that traffic, then it's like going fishing with a hoop instead of a net. People should come to your site and know what to do next. Don't let them bounce, keep them warm.
Plan for the long haul -- It's tempting to measure PR on a week-by-week basis, but a program takes time to develop. A hit today in a small online publication may be what you need to move up to the bigger, more impressive and more traffic-driving publications down the road.
Understand where you belong -- While the Boston Globe may not yield major results for technology companies who want site traffic, I've spoken with consumer-goods companies that say a single piece their made their year. They needed awareness that later turned into sales. It's a very different measure. Another company may find that CMSWire drives the most relevant traffic. Success depends a long list of factors.
Like collecting the top influencers on a given topic at a Mexican restaurant at SXSW, pouring Margaritas and having a conversation.
But if you're looking at a number like a Klout score you need to ask yourself "what are you truly measuring?" Even accepted measurements have flaws. For evidence of that look no further than a great Freakonomics video on Football stats. They point out how seemingly simple metrics like a QB's passing yards never tell the whole story. The video points out that last season, quarterbacks who threw for 300 or more yards a game went 47-49. When you look at those QBs with 400+ passing games, that record drops to 3-11. (I'd like to note here that Joe Namath was the MVP of Superbowl III without throwing a single touchdown pass. He didn't throw any passes in the 4th quarter. Yet the Jets still won.)
I like what Klout is attempting to do: trying to provide everyone with a simple way to measure influence. The problem is, it means different things to different people and has a dozen different contexts.
In other words, "influence" isn't so simple to measure.
The event was an excellent overview of how far we've come. According to Jeremiah Owyang, the opening speaker, 71% of businesses have had some form of social media program in place for more than a year (his slide deck from the program is below).
The event was also an excellent illustration of how far we have yet to go. When I saw the phrase "Social Media Business" I thought there would be more exploration of how social is moving beyond the marketing department. The Altimeter Group itself shared some interesting survey results on social's expansion into other departments back in June (see below), but the focus of today's program stayed very much in the marketing department.
That's definitely not a bad thing -- there is plenty of work left to do when it comes to realizing the full potential of social media marketing. And as a PR guy, I should be happy about where we are. But so much of my success as a PR pro is dependent on the quality and reputation of the company or product I'm promoting -- and that can only be helped by involving more than just the marketing department.
Those of you interested in continuing the conversation outside the marketing department should tune in to Tuesday's Social Product Innovation Summit and SPIKE Awards event, being sponsored by the Social Media Club and Fresh Ground client Kalypso, among others. The free virtual program starts at 11am and runs through 3pm -- sign up at http://www.spikesummit.com/, even if you can only make part of the program!
In November of that same year, a group of about 100 of us teamed up with the Society for New Communications Research and hosted our first Boston meeting of the club. Jen was there, as well as Chris Heuer, and we were joined by a great group of Boston folks, including the following folks who really helped get the word out and share their thoughts: Adam Weiss, Adam Zand, Alison Raymond, Amanda Watlington, Barbara Rudolph, Brian Cavoli, Bryan Person, Chuck Hester, David Meerman Scott, Doug Haslam, Geoff Livingston, Mike Spataro, Paula Slotkin, Scott Monty, Susan Koutalakis, Tom Francoeur, Tony Sapienza and many others who you'll recognize in the photos below.
I started my journalism career in radio, so I have a bit of a bias toward sound. Nothing, not TV, not print, not Twitter, not Facebook, can convey as much information, texture and beauty as the human voice.
For this reason, radio tends to be a relatively tight medium with short stories, quick soundbites and audio cues that give you a lot of information fast. A radio journalism professor of mine once commented that you can tell the history of the world in 3 minutes.
She's close. It may take 5.
Some people talk better than they write (though, admittedly, some write better than they talk) because for many of us it's a much more natural way of communicating. Even as babies it was our primary way of taking in information and our second way of conveying information (gesturing came first). Writing comes long after.
So I'm always surprised when I hear that journalists don't want to answer phones. I understand that they are often overwhelmed with calls or, as Robin Wauters points out, that phone calls aren't searchable. It's a fair issue. Though, recording and transcribing technologies can fix some of that. (Paul Carr's "I'm quitting breathing" reaction is killer, by the way.)
I still find phone to be an extrodinarily useful tool, both inbound and outbound. Quite often I'll email a reporter, maybe IM them, then wait for a response. Sometimes, if the story is right, I'll follow up by phone. Nearly all of the time the reporter will say one of two things:
Oh, I saw that email but didn't have a chance to respond, what was that again? or
Can you email me? You did? Let me find it... hold on.... [searching inbox]... oh, yeah, that does sound interesting...
The reason is simple: a phone call lets them get more information in less time. Instead of being stuck with just the information I sent, they can interrupt me, ask questions and get more data. They can also tell me why they're not interested, giving me more information to help improve the story.
Anyone who has ever tried to make a joke via email can tell you that writing has its limits. Sarcasm certainly doesn't translate well and jokes often fall flat. So if you're a journalist doing an interview, don't you want to hear a pregnant pause? Doesn't a tone tell you a bit more information than the basic facts?
If you need a current example of this just listen to the amazing piece on This American Life called When Patents Attack! Simple questions trip up key subjects just by being asked out loud. Via email those questions would have been fretted over and answered carefully. They would have conveyed some information, but not all of it.
Also, if, as a journalist, you carefully screen everyone who gets through to you, aren't you simply limiting your sources of information? This has some advantages, but as a journalist doesn't this keep you from gaining new sources and good stories?
So I'm curious from journalists and non-journalists: if you could eliminate phone from your life, would you? Have you already done that through tools like Google Voice? Are their other inbound channels that you'd eliminate if you could?
I love working with Wade Roush. Not only is he a great guy, he's a smart, serious and intelligent reporter. The only catch is that he is about 3 feet taller than I am, so I strain my neck looking up while talking to him. I may start bringing a step stool.
Today he offers up some great advice about how pitch him. Other reporters have done this in the past, but Wade's post is among the best I read and actually speaks to issues that are much broader than just him. He echoes much of what we hear from reporters all the time. I recently had conversations with several reporters from all different types of publications who may love the story we're pitching, but simply don't have time to do it. These range from those focusing in regional tech to national consumer. Fewer reporters are churning out more material with fewer resources. This leads to them find ways to limit where to focus.
Has this company won the backing of reputable investors? This is really about third-party validation. If you're just someone with an idea that hasn't yet gone through some kind of business gauntlet, then it's hard for a journalist to take you seriously yet.
How truly differentiated is this company’s technology? For entrepreneurs this is often the most difficult to answer. From inside your technology looks different than anything else out there, but when you bring something to a reporter who gets pitched by 20 companies that look and sound just like yours, you need to have messaging in place that answers this question very well. You will stumble with this at first, but be willing to look deep and think about it.
Is this company offering a product or service that our audience would care about? I think this is more about the strategy behind your media and influencer relations program. Are you picking the right media audience? Did you create the right "pitch" for that audience? Are the readers of that publication people you truly need to reach?
Does this company have a team of articulate, charismatic founders or executives? One phrase: media training. Get it. Feel you need it? Contact us.
Does this company have a convincing business model? Oh the business model discussion. I cannot tell you how often I go to a pitch event, listen to the entrepreneur go through the whole pitch only to have the first question be: how are you going to make money? It's become so obvious that people actually laugh when it comes up. It's easier just to acknowledge and answer it up front. Though, as Wade points out: "I’m increasingly irritated by what I call the Twitter Answer: 'We’re focused for now on building a service that 200 million people will use, and later we’ll figure out some way to monetize it.'"
Is this company built to flip? Or simply to get the founders “acqhired” at Google, Facebook, or Twitter? Here in Boston I've seen frothy coverage of companies that I just don't fully understand. I look at their business and their technology and think "that's a not a company, that's an application." I'm not the only one, others seem to have the same opinion. But it's a good thing to think about as an entrepreneur in general. Are we really creating something that can stand alone? One of my favorite examples on the positive side of this question is Runkeeper, which started as an application and has evolved into a platform. Jason Jacobs isn't about creating a company that is born to flip, he created a company that has much more potential than that.