A Journalist’s POV: 3 Questions From A PR Team

Like many in the PR world, I am an unabashed podcast junkie. The best of the genre provide in-depth looks at a range of people or ideas, and they often include the extra interview questions that you just don’t get on traditional radio shows. Podcasts can spark ideas that are just irresistible to the PR profession. One of my personal favorites is The Sporkful food podcast at WNYC Studios, and its thoughtful and witty host, Dan Pashman (who also hosts the Cooking Channel show “You’re Eating It Wrong.”)

Reliably entertaining whether discussing something scientific or just loving on favorite foods, (I’m a sucker for his bagel musings) The Sporkful is a must-listen. In our Q & A with him below, Dan, who also happens to do his own PR, gave us his no-holds-barred perspective on how PR pros can improve their relationships with producers.

Q: Do you find that PR people understand how to work well with a podcast producer and what would you say are the differences between “pitching ” an interview on a traditional radio broadcast vs a podcast? 

A: I find that most PR people don’t know how to work with any kind of producer. I think the main difference with podcasts vs. radio is that podcasts are more niche. They are more specific in what they cover. So you really, really have to know what a podcast covers and specializes in before you pitch them if you want to have success. I do a food podcast, but there are whole parts of the food world and food-related topics that I have no interest in and never cover. I often get sprayed with food pitches from people who have clearly never listened to a single episode of The Sporkful.

Q: How often do you work with PR reps and what is an example of a good experience you have had?
Here Dan was kind enough to compliment Crenshaw and another agency whom he cited as consistently opting for “quality over quantity.” Dan continued to say that he finds most PR people lazy, but qualified this by saying they rely too heavily on compiling huge media lists and sending mass email pitches so they can tell their client, “I pitched you to this place and that place!”

A: Sending a mass email is not a pitch. I never send the exact same pitch to two people. You’re better off sending 10 individual, personalized pitches that are custom tailored to the specific recipients than you are sending one mass email to 1,000 people. You’ll get about the same number of hits and you’ll build good will and a strong contact base. I always read the emails I get from my trusted PR sources because they know what I do and they only email me when they have a good idea that could really fit. We don’t always go for it, but I always read the email and consider it. (And to be clear, I can easily tell the difference between a person who spent 30 seconds scanning my website so they could reference something specific I’ve done and someone who actually listens.)

Q: What advice would you have for someone who wanted to start a podcast, perhaps one about PR? 

A: There are a couple of specific PR podcasts but they tend to be very “Inside Baseball,” it might be interesting for someone to produce one that was more fun and appealed to a broad audience by telling some PR secrets or pulling back the curtain on some interesting stories –that the layperson would have no clue – were PR-generated. PR is so much about presenting a certain image or idea to the world, I think people who are really immersed in PR can become so accustomed to communicating with a certain filter. I’d love to hear PR people talking without that filter. Anyone up for the challenge?

Why Are PR Agencies So White?

The public relations industry has done a good job speaking out about the lack of ethnic and demographic diversity in our business – particularly at PR agencies, where middle-class whites predominate, and where C-level management is mostly Caucasian men. For the unpersuaded, there’s some excellent content on why ethnic diversity is critical to the future of our business. I think the PR community already knows this, though we’re sometimes vague about our commitment.

Yet with so much talk, why is public relations still so… well, white? Despite good intentions and plenty of seminars, most agencies are stubbornly homogeneous. Why can’t we solve this problem? I decided to look further than the typical reason that “there’s no pipeline.”

The pipeline starts in college. Students of color may not be counseled toward communications careers, for one thing. More importantly, when they browse the websites of major agencies, they’re not likely to see many executives who look like them. Many feel that this will only change when clients – who outstrip agencies on the diversity front – insist on agency teams that reflect the population.

Cultural and familial values may also be at work. Some point out that first-generation Americans are influenced by immigrant parents to focus on “traditional” careers or high-status occupations that are perceived as reliable, like law or accounting, rather than so-called creative professions. As PR agency professionals joke, our business is poorly understood anyway; how many people outside of the industry really know what we do?

It will take “boots on the ground” on college campuses to make our industry more colorful, as practitioner Tyrus Sturgis points out, including more than action by the students themselves. Some of the larger agencies have instituted innovative internships for underserved students; Edelman even has an apprenticeship for high school students in the UK, which is the kind of program that should be more commonplace in our business.

Diversity and inclusion are distinct. Recent studies, including one commissioned by the PRSA Foundation, point to the role of inclusion strategies in keeping minorities in the agency environment and supporting their success once hired. When agencies find suitable minority candidates, they may think their job is done when in fact it is only beginning. Inclusion doesn’t always come easily, and what begins as a well-meaning commitment to diversity can devolve into tokenism.

Unpaid internships are the elephant in the room. More than anything else, PR’s long history of unpaid internships may account for the narrow pipeline of underrepresented minorities at agencies. Like other so-called “glamour” industries, the agency business has relied on a stream of college students or new university graduates who work for no pay (or for a transportation stipend) as a way to gain experience and break into the business. The willing candidates so greatly outnumber the available positions that there’s been little incentive to offer salaries. The unpaid internships naturally favor the more privileged, and for years, the pipeline has been filled with students who are predominantly white and from the upper middle class.

The move toward paid internships may bring limitations, mainly the prospect of fewer internship opportunities overall. Or there may be more positions that lack a high level of managerial oversight and mentorship. But I have to believe that, if we are to walk the walk, this is the single biggest step forward that nearly any agency can take.

If we are to make public relations more “colorful,” it will take a far greater commitment from the agencies themselves, with the larger multinational firms in the lead, as well as a real and ongoing collaboration between schools, clients, and the agencies that support them. The PR Council has laid some excellent groundwork for building a more diverse agency workplace and community. But each agency, regardless of size, needs to step up.

5 PR Lessons From Our Favorite Instagrammers

With more than 400 million users monthly, Instagram can be a powerful tool in a PR campaign — as we previously noted here. With 68 percent of users saying they engage with brands on Instagram, big brands, small businesses, and influencers alike have embraced the social media platform, producing content that professional communicators can learn much from. Here are some PR lessons we gleaned from some of our favorite Instagrammers.

Find creative ways to make the standard announcement. Store openings, fundraising rounds, new product launches — consumers and businesses have come to expect these, but our Instagram feed shows us they don’t have to be a yawn. Take Nordstrom: it tapped Instagram’s popularity by launching an annual sale with a 14,000-square-foot image designed to look like an Instagram screen shot of one of its dresses — viewable on the rooftop of its flagship Seattle store. Yes, real news and announcements merit media coverage on their own, but creative storytelling tactics can make a bigger splash and leave a more lasting impression.

Appeal to the imagination. Whether you’re speaking to millennials, chief marketing officers or stay-at-home moms, everyone wants to be surprised and delighted in ways that spark the imagination. We see this in brands like Solestruck, which takes a shoe-selling platform to new levels by sharing unexpected juxtapositions and bright pops of colors in its feed. Maybe it’s a media event in the middle of winter that transports attendees to warmer places, or a product that has implications for how the world will be different in the future. If your PR campaign triggers thoughts and associations with places we don’t normally go, you’re likely to win new fans and keep loyal followers.

Be true to your brand. We draw this lesson from the queen of Instagram (among other things), Taylor Swift, the world’s most followed Instagrammer with 64 million followers. Equal parts glamour girl and girl next door, Swift uses a combination of cat videos and world tour shots to reflect her persona — both the pop star we all want to be, and the ordinary girl we believe we are. For PR programs, whether the moment calls for media pitches or creative extensions, it’s best to make sure ideas, language, and core messages are authentic. An incongruous message or delivery only raises suspicion that something is amiss, or is just a media ploy.

Don’t underestimate the power of words. Here’s one to show we have a sense of humor: in the Instagram feed of Wafflenugget, the irresistible Bernese mountain dog with more than 38,000 followers, it’s the captions and suggested dialogue that bring this “influencer” to life. Words matter, and the phrases and descriptions in your PR pitches or press releases  — even on the phone, informally — can have lasting impressions and ramifications. We remember instances when words spoken off the cuff were quoted in an article, underscoring the importance of choosing words wisely and not going off script.

When possible, mix media. Food blogger Julie’s Kitchen shares artful collages made of fresh ingredients (sourced from local farmers markets) on her Instagram feed and sells the prints online. It’s the perfect example of how different mediums converge. Does your media push translate into a foray into another medium? Simple sharing on social media is an obvious one, but what about turning the content from your in-depth interview into a Twitter chat? Or making your spokesperson available not only to be interviewed by the press, but by a crowdsourced group on Reddit, as we recently did for a creative client? Repurposing material for different mediums is a great way to reach different audiences and maintain buzz.
With Instagram now in its sixth year, it continues to evolve and grow in popularity, and there’s no shortage of inspiration of ideas we can learn from it.

6 PR Pitches To Avoid At All Costs

Top PR agencies know the value of a well-crafted PR pitch to get the attention of an overworked and cynical media contact. Our years of experience have provided us with a pretty accurate “6th sense” for what will and will not get positive journalist attention. With that in mind, we have prepared a list of the type of PR pitches to avoid at all costs.

The overly commercial pitch. The media aren’t interested in an approach that screams the company name and all its selling points. Journalists are in business to tell a story to their audience, not provide coverage of every company announcement that comes their way. The smartest pitches convey company news and benefits “wrapped” in a newsworthy, compelling narrative that gets a writer’s attention.

The long pitch. The kiss of PR death. More than about 120 words and you will likely turn off a journalist who’s looking at 500+ e-mails a day. As a writer friend once said, if everything is found in the pitch, what story do I have to tell? The pitch has to tantalize and intrigue, telling just enough to whet the reporter’s appetite to learn more — ideally, through an interview.

The “too creative” pitch. This anecdote from a producer bears repeating, since we first wrote about it here. She received a pitch for a career website that included examples of how to be inspired by historical figures associated with Thanksgiving and included the line, “Pilgrims, the original networkers.” The same person pitched a story near Halloween about reviving a “dead career” which began with “rise at the witching hour.” The producer’s advice: not everything needs to have a theme. Clever writing and puns have their place, but err on the side of simple, clear language to get your points across.

The inaccurate pitch. Hell hath no fury like the deceived journalist! Be very clear about what your story is, what your spokesperson will talk about and when, and major details like statistics or financial details. We’re not above a little creative hyperbole to get interest, but tread carefully. This also applies to an approach that overpromises in any way. It’s likely to backfire.

The ill-timed pitch. The smartest PR teams research deadlines of all those they pitch and err on the side of allowing extra time. Think the way the media think. Print magazine? Allow 3-4 months. TV news? Just a few days usually. Online news site? Same day for breaking news. Avoid the frustration of being shut out by getting a good handle on media timing. And it goes without saying that in a time of major breaking news or unfolding crisis, it’s in bad taste to be pitching at all, unless there’s a legitimate reason.

#PitchFAIL. Probably the worst, yet most common, error is the pitch that goes to the wrong person. This can be someone who formerly covered sports but switched to entertainment months ago, or a writer who may have done one story on start-ups but primarily covers a regional beat. Job one in media relations is to scour media lists and keep them up-to-date and accurate. The best earned media placements are often a match between a great angle and the perfect journalist or blogger to cover it.

Now that you know what to avoid at all costs, get the scoop on what works. Download our free tipsheet, 5 Pitches That Work And Why. 

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5 Steps To Good PR From Social Media Complaints

Social media has become a favorite medium for customer service complaints, but is there a way to transform such complaints into good PR for your company? We think there is. Customer service and public relations are growing closer, and engaging complainers on social media — the right way — is an opportunity to turn critics into fans. If done well, a frustrated customer could end up singing your company’s praises. Here are five ways to turn social media complaints into positive PR.

First, do no harm. When complaints are rude, spiteful, or – worst of all – making claims that aren’t true, it can be tempting to respond swiftly and emotionally, but that’s rarely advisable. First, don’t make it worse. Avoid threatening legal action or posting anything confrontational – social media simply isn’t the place. Defuse the situation by doing the equivalent of escorting a disruptive customer out of a public place — show willingness to engage and invite them to discuss the matter offline to resolve the issue. Which leads to…

Reach out directly to public complainers.  Assuming the complaint isn’t profane, respond directly to the customer on the same social media channel they used. The conversation is public, so onlookers can see that someone’s home and someone cares, which helps a brand’s reputation. Acknowledge and validate the complaint if appropriate (“You’re right, waiting 20 minutes in a check-out line is not acceptable”), speak to how it’s being addressed (“I’ve escalated your situation and you will hear from us within 24 hours”), and offer to continue the conversation offline if warranted. Be human, not robotic.

Respond immediately.  According to a study by Lithium Technologies, 72 percent of customers who complain on Twitter expect the brand to respond within one hour. It’s worth it for brands to invest in full-time coverage of all social media channels. Waiting even a few hours can irk consumers even more, and a swift response earns points. Monitoring tools, including free ones, can help track mentions and complaints across social media channels. Hootsuite is one of the best, especially when your social media is monitored by a team rather than an individual, and Social Mention or Mention can help keep on top of hashtags and brand mentions. Go with one you can tweak to meet your company’s needs.

Offer a genuine apology if warranted. A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward appeasing cranky consumers. Honestly assess the nature of the complaint being made. If it’s a valid argument, acknowledge it. And don’t make the mistake of issuing a non-apology apology or botched apology.

Be surprising. Once in a while, do something that takes complainers by surprise — give them what they ask for, or throw in a bonus. Airlines are well known for offering vouchers or upgrades when complainers have legitimate gripes. And PayPal, though not dealing with customer complaints, won praise for its #treatyourself campaign around Valentine’s Day (which we wrote about here), in which the company surprised some followers by offering to deliver on the wish they tweeted about.

The PR Wisdom Of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Updated)

Like many professional communicators, I’ve long considered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of natural public relations instincts and admired his speeches and sermons as models of artful and persuasive communications. The celebrated “I Have A Dream” address can still give me chills.

But King’s life and writings offer more inspiration for professional persuaders than even his most famous speech. Check out this post from 2014 about “the greatest MLK speeches you never heard.”

King was known to be influenced by Gandhi, but according to biographer Taylor Branch, he relied upon a range of figures for inspiration, from pacifist theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to evangelist Billy Graham. To really understand Dr. King’s communications genius, consider some of the less-celebrated but rousing quotes and wisdom from the man himself.

Here are my favorite excerpts from King’s speeches that may be of interest to communicators. Some are amazingly prescient.

As a motivator, MLK was second to none. He often invoked the Bible, great writers like Tolstoy, and poets like James Russell Lowell and William Cullen Bryant. His remarks were crafted and delivered to lift up his flock and bring out the best in them, even in the darkest moments of the civil rights struggle.
One particularly stirring address was “Our God Is Marching On” after the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. King’s speeches often used the evangelical techniques of alliteration and rhythmic repetition to build excitement. This one is also known as the “How Long? Not Long” speech and is distinguished by repeated urges to the crowd to “March on!” and the repetitive chants of “How long? Not long!”

“I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ … How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And in later speeches, the familiar and uplifting:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Los Angeles, 1967)

On globalism.  King raised eyebrows by speaking out against the Vietnam conflict, but his speeches may be newly relevant (or controversial) in today’s geopolitical arena.

“The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn is not just.” (“Why I Am Opposed To The War in Vietnam”, 1967)

On leadership.  King clearly led by example, but his words were often inspiring.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”  (Domestic Impact of the War, 1967)

This comment on technology and ethics could have been made in our time. Mark Zuckerberg, are you listening?
“We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture; we have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology and for this reason we find ourselves caught up with many problems. Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men.”  (Sermon at Temple Israel in Hollywood, 1965)

On technology.  It amazes me today that King had plenty to say about science and technology some 50 years ago. He criticized those who see religion and science as mutually exclusive in “A Tough Mind And A Tender Heart.”

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”

For me, his words on personal activism are particularly poignant. In the famous letter surreptitiously written and smuggled out of the Alabama jail where he was held in solitary confinement, King decried the “shallow understanding” and “lukewarm acceptance” of white moderates. His words may have even more resonance today.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)

7 Ways To Help Your Tech PR Agency Succeed

If you’ve ever worked with a top technology PR agency, you know the business of developing public relations programs for hot tech companies or startups can be challenging. That’s why it’s important that all members of your PR team are working in sync and that the time is being well deployed. To be successful, there are some key things to keep in mind from the start of a PR agency relationship.

Focus the team’s time. Life at a growing technology company — especially a startup — can be a whirlwind, round-the-clock kind of existence. When the activity is nonstop, it’s critical to prioritize the activities where PR resources can be most effective. Make sure the scope of PR work is clear. It may be tempting to ask the team to respond to website inbox queries, or to get media attention for a last-minute idea by the founder. Sometimes they’ll need to jump in, but as a rule it’s a waste to burn precious time on tasks that can be handled by internal staff, or that require lead time to be successful.

Stage your announcements to maximize PR. Have news to share? Great, but let your PR advisers help stage the news and announcements to generate maximum mileage. Many a great story has been lost because someone leaked a hot scoop, allowing the news to dribble out without a coherent media strategy. When timed strategically, you’ll be able to get more out of those announcements and continue generating buzz month after month.

Secure participation from partners in advance. It’s a huge advantage when you work with big-name partners who can help with PR by being quoted in the press, but make sure everyone is aligned on what they’re willing to do (or not) for publicity. We’ve seen companies invoke well-known VCs or celebrity partners on exciting new products and services, only to learn that there are hard limits on participation in media relations. Getting on the same page from the start will smooth bumps in the road when it comes time to execute on PR strategy.

Invest in the right places. If you’re ready to invest in a PR partner, be willing to think through other expenditures that may be necessary – or merely desirable – to make the most of that investment. That could mean more sophisticated tools for tracking social media, or spending on original surveys or proprietary research data, which can set you apart from the crowd. Maybe it’s a killer event to build stronger relationships with media and bloggers, or a series of media training sessions. Greater visibility raises the stakes for many startups.

Work only with experienced PR professionals. As explained in our tipsheet on how to hit your PR goals in the New Year, there are many moving parts in a full-fledged PR program, and it’s hard to keep things going at top speed when people are in roles that don’t suit their skills or desires.  As in other creative services, experience counts in PR, and it doesn’t pay to settle for less when it comes to the team members. Don’t be afraid to move staffers around when your gut tells you it’s not working, or when a team is not aligned. It’s better to rip that band-aid off earlier rather than later.

Streamline tools. Tech loves its tools. But it’s important to be flexible and to streamline the use of tech tools for project management, reporting and ongoing communications. Your team might live and die by Asana, or you may love email, but if it’s creating more work to adopt new tools, find a happy medium that pleases everyone. Tools should simplify, not create more work.

Understand PR’s timeline. There’s always the possibility of a quick win, and the tips above help maximize the chances of that. But the fruits of strategic PR can take months to grow. Protect your PR investment by developing a robust program of tactics to avoid the “eggs in one basket” syndrome, then break down each program segment into deliverables and milestones to gauge progress against goals.

Theranos: Triumph Of PR Over Science?

The suddenly sober mood of 2016 is extending to Silicon Valley. The tech sector’s experiencing a sense of caution and maybe a renewed commitment to diligence after much exuberance. Part of that is something Fast Company calls the “Theranos effect.”

The rise and fall of the once-promising health technology startup is a warning for investors chasing the next unicorn. But it’s also a lesson for PR practitioners and journalists. The Theranos narrative is about the triumph of PR and optics over substance and maybe even science.
Through its telegenic founder Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos articulated a bold vision: it would completely upend the traditional diagnostic laboratory industry by offering over 200 medical tests at a fraction of the price of established labs, and with far less discomfort and blood – just a fingerprick’s worth, in fact. In 2014 Fortune put Holmes on its cover. She was featured in a lengthy profile in The New Yorker, interviewed by dozens of women’s and lifestyle publications and lionized on the women-in-technology circuit. Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2015.  Theranos was valued at an impressive $9 billion.

But the story started to fray after the Wall Street Journal reported that, in contrast to the innovative promise of the fingerprick, Theranos was using the same technology as conventional labs for all but one of its blood tests. Other doubts came to light, and the media, smelling – well, blood, began to pile on. Holmes responded to the challenges, but skepticism persists, and the company still hadn’t opened its scientific methodology to outside scrutiny.

Things may yet turn, but it’s safe to say that the Theranos story grew out of proportion to the reality. One factor is the recent frothy environment for technology startups. Many think there’s simply been too much money chasing deals.

But there are other reasons – a lack of media diligence, a PR strategy that ignored science in favor of personality, and our desperate need to believe in the next technology hero – or heroine.

Holmes was great PR because she seemed right out of central casting. Her emergence as a 30-year-old, newly minted billionaire (on paper); her story (well-connected Stanford student drops out of school to pursue her word-changing idea); and her role as disruptor of the healthcare status quo and champion of personal healthcare empowerment was irresistible to media. She was the Silicon Valley version of a triple threat.

Connections led to more connections. Holmes happened to be a friend of the daughter of Tim Draper of legendary VC Draper Fisher Jurvetson, who kicked in the first $1 million of financing. And with the cash came credibility, and more contacts. Holmes ultimately assembled a Board of Directors with boldfaced names like ex-Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, among others. With such heavyweights, no one seemed to notice the relative absence of scientific experts or practicing medical professionals. 

Media follow media. It’s a dirty secret in PR. When it comes to a hot story, sometimes all you need to do is crack that first feature. Journalists can have a herd mentality even as they scramble for a fresh take, coverage begets more coverage, and the hits just keep rolling in. Although some details seem odd in hindsight, there were few tough questions. The story was just too good, and there was something for everyone, from Holmes’ lofty idealism to her closet full of black turtlenecks.

Finally, there’s gender. You can’t underestimate the influence of Holmes status as a young, blonde woman at the helm of a technology company with a sexy story. 
She was the sole female chemical engineering student in her class at Stanford University. She took risks that led her to the rarefied air of so-called unicorn founders, where women are more than scarce. As Fortune – which has done plenty of post-mortem coverage as Theranos has fallen – points out, “the media is desperate for a woman to hold up as a model of success at this level.”

And it’s true. Anyone with a female tech-company founder as a client knows how hot the demand is for speaking opportunities, profiles, and board memberships for women in tech. Silicon Valley has been justly criticized for female-unfriendly policies, and the Theranos story was an inspiring change to the drumbeat of recrimination.

For its part, the women’s media are equally hungry for stories about brilliant, ambitious young females who are breaking barriers. As Elle magazine’s Mattie Kahn says, “feminists need CEO Elizabeth Holmes.” Everyone needed her, because everyone benefited from the Elizabeth Holmes that the PR machine created. So much that they were willing to ignore the science (or lack of it), defer the hard questions, and overlook the unusual degree of secrecy around Theranos. As annoying questions about the “stealth research” and lack of peer-reviewed literature arose, the company doubled down on the personal narrative and the challenge to the status quo. That’s a defense that works only if the scientific underpinning is in place.

Now the backlash has begun, and the press will scrutinize every move at Theranos from here on. That’s okay. But there’s a danger that they’ll overreact and demonize Holmes, not because of her gender, as some suggest, but in their embarrassment and haste to do what they should have done in the first place. In cases like these there’s always the risk of a media pile-up because they feel they’ve been duped.

A better approach by the company would have involved a positioning informed by science, a communications approach more in line with reality, and a narrative reflecting the inspiring potential of the technology instead of one dominated by a cult of personality. The right role for journalists is to hold Theranos to its commitment to disclose its data as promised, not to crucify it.
It will be unfortunate if Theranos crashes and burns, because it could still be a great narrative and a successful business. And I’d like to think that there are many future Elizabeth Holmeses in waiting, and that, one day soon, one of them will go all the way.

8 Key Questions To Ask A PR Firm

If part of your 2016 B2B PR planning is to invest in a top-notch PR firm, don’t go ahead without incorporating these eight key questions into your decision-making criteria.

Can you provide some recent, relevant case histories? Ideally an agency’s selection isn’t based solely on category experience, but it’s an easy way to make a first cut. In the best case each firm under consideration has demonstrable client history, and some will rise to the top based on fresh category experience well matched to future opportunities.

Who will be our day-to-day contact? An agency should have determined this before they ever meet with a potential PR partner, and obviously that person should be in the room. The account lead at the right agency will have a combination of pertinent experience, communications skills and good chemistry with the client team.

Can we speak with some of your current clients? References are often important, but up-to-date ones will give you the most current picture of what a working relationship would look like.

Where would our business fit in your account roster? Here you are trying to determine if you are the “big fish in the small pond” or the other way around. Getting a sense of the other accounts handled by the agency will help determine if the level of service will meet your needs.

Can you offer an example of a creative strategy? It’s often a good idea to let the agency demonstrate their smarts on a real-world project. This insight into their thinking provides a glimpse of how creative they are, which is typically the spark that takes a ho-hum idea to the next level.

Please describe your digital and social capabilities. No PR program would be complete without these capabilities, but make sure that the experience isn’t limited to social posting by an intern. Look for examples of work that demonstrate a grasp of strategy and thought leadership where relevant.

How do you calculate ROI for PR services? Measurement is a cornerstone of all PR decision-making and determining that a firm’s results calculus and reporting style fits with your own is critical.

How do you charge for services? Entering into a PR relationship is a major undertaking for any company, so an early step is establishing the budget and whether the partnership is based on fee or an hourly rate. If the contract is fee-based, it’s also important to establish the length of the contract and how it is renewed.

Bonus question. Always ask the firm what they would need from you to make the relationship work best. The most productive PR partnerships function less like client/vendor relationships and more like extensions of the same department. This simple question can help ensure that the latter is the case.

The Top Tech PR Stories Of 2015

As PR agency professionals and other pundits make up their “best” and “worst” lists for 2015, technology stories and the PR behind them will be ubiquitous. That’s because the publications and brands that used to be followed by geeks and technical experts are now mainstream. Mashable, for example, reports regularly on general news stories, and an entire industry of Apple-watchers is always poised to weigh in on its next move.

Here, then is my list of five top tech stories of 2016 – defined as those that had the greatest PR impact.

Apple Watch set trends for wearables. The much-anticipated launch of its latest product was also a media watch, as fans and critics followed breathless liveblogs of the introduction and the reviews of lucky first adopters. No, the Apple Watch wasn’t a home run launch for Apple, but that’s not the point. Apple’s entry made wearables a category to be reckoned with for 2016 and beyond.

Ashley Madison was beset by hackers. Woe to the PR person with a data security clients who didn’t jump on the bandwagon here! The data breach, in which hackers posted the personal information of Ashley Madison members, was a warning to any site promising user confidentiality. As Re/code described it in a story about the repercussions of the infamous Sony Pictures data hemorrhage of 2014, “hackers can and will take away your job.” And maybe your business.

Self-driving cars started up. Move over, Google! In 2015 Tesla upgraded the software for its Model S sedans, enabling smart autopilot functions that will maintain distance from other vehicles, change lanes, and park themselves. The self-driving car is more than just a hilarious segment on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” It’s an innovation likely to change transportation forever.

Amazon gets ‘primed’ for higher-tech drone delivery. Drones were big again in 2015, but it may be Amazon’s investment in drone technology, particularly  a slimmer, sleeker delivery bot, that grabbed the  most media attention as customers and Amazon-watchers anticipate the launch of Amazon Prime Air.

Yahoo’s decline rolls on. This wasn’t a single story, but rather a steady, drip-drip of bad news and negative moves for the once-dominant company. Many are predicting that 2016 will be Marissa Mayer’s last year as CEO, as slow growth in its core advertising business persists and an exodus of talent continues. Ad tech giants like Google, Facebook, and AOL Platforms have surpassed Yahoo, which more and more seems like a symbol of an earlier technology era.