Greenhouse VP talks #MeToo Workplace Issues

Greenhouse VP of Marketing and Strategy Maia Josebachvili offers sound advice about a controversial subject in an interview with Refinery29’s Judith Ohikuare last week. In the March 13 article, she suggests commonsense solutions to the so-called “Pence rule,” on hugging colleagues, and on appropriate places to hold meetings with the opposite gender.

Greenhouse Software, producer of talent acquisition tools, recently named Crenshaw Communications as its PR agency of record.

Tech PR Guide To Executive Podcast Gigs

Placing your CEO/founder as a guest on a tech podcast is a great tool for PR pros to establish the boss as a thought leader and thereby increase a young B2B company’s profile. Every company has a story, and that story can be a valuable public relations tool — and the best kind of free exposure. There’s a podcast for everything: from Meowster for cat lovers to The Survivalist Prepper Podcast, a show for doomsayers awaiting the collapse of civilization.

The opportunities are exciting. You don’t even have to be in the same city where the shows are recorded, because most do remote interviews. Some shows have one or two tech junkies chatting on a topic of interest each week, while others may feature a panel discussion. Most have blogs for further exposure. The best PR opportunity might be an appearance on a show that regularly interviews eminent experts, tech journalists, or company founders. And you don’t have to be named Bezos or Musk to guest on an episode.

Let’s take a look at six of the best tech podcasts on which your PR pro should book the CEO.

The a16z Podcast

Currently ranked #10 by iTunes, a16z is the highest ranked show of this group. Twice weekly episodes usually feature a panel of four or five CEOs, professors, business leaders, and engineers. They sometimes interview big-time corporate chiefs like Ted Sarandos of Netflix, but most often they chat with early-stage company founders. The discussions range widely from in-depth tech topics covering the business of tech to its cultural repercussions. A guest appearance is a great opportunity to boost a CEO’s profile. Episodes include How Tech is Changing Investing, Creating a Category: from Pricing to Positioning; and How to Live Longer and Better.

This Week in Enterprise Tech/This Week in Tech

One of the best tech podcasts: This Week in Tech
As it affectionately calls itself, TWIT’s This Week in Enterprise Tech boasts the highest production value of the list. TWIT complements the audio podcast with a sponsored, highly watchable video production. Airing weekly, the show is usually hosted by Robert Ballecer, a Silicon Valley native and Jesuit priest. A pair of off-site co-hosts usually assist, with one special guest weekly. The specificity of the subject narrows one’s audience to the exact right niche. A recent episode is called What’s happening with the AWS Cloud?. Other episodes include Why Enterprises Still Tip-Toe Around The Cloud and Next-Generation Ssds With Kingston. Its cousin program under the TWIT’s empire of shows is This Week in Tech,  ranks even higher at #21.

How I Built It

The software how-to show How I Built It, currently at #42, should not to be confused with NPR’s How I Built This. With high production value and big-name corporate sponsors, the show chronicles the fascinating origin stories of tech companies. Host Joe Casabona interviews founders and developers from tech companies like Pantheon, Sitelock, and Mode Effect. It’s a perfect platform for a CEO to develop a reputation as an industry expert. Episodes include Neill Feather & SiteLock, Patrick Rauland and Building a WooCommerce Shop and Nicole Kohler and Content Strategy.

O’Reilly Data Show Podcast

O’Reilly Data Show Podcast, with host data scientist Ben Lorica, explores the opportunities and techniques driving big data, data science, and AI. He interviews one guest per episode, usually founders, scientists, or engineers. While not the most dynamic of productions, it would be a good place for a founder/CEO of an AI or data startup to get some experience in guesting. Airing weekly, it features a recent episode, How to train and deploy deep learning at scale. Other episodes include Using machine learning to monitor and optimize chatbots and Machine learning at Spotify: You are what you stream.

Hack to Start

Hack to Start calls itself a “podcast focused on interesting people and the innovative ways they achieve success.” Each week or so, the two co-hosts interview a different founder/CEO on business-oriented topics. Though it’s a more entrepreneurship-focused program than some of the podcasts, most of the guests are from tech companies. A recent episode is an interview with Hannah Donovan, the founder/CEO of the startup Trash. Other episodes include former Kayak marketing manager Gessica Bicego and Jess Brown, director of UX at Vice Media.

This Week in Machine Learning & AI

This Week in Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence, or known by its pithy nickname TWIML & AI, was ranked #60 by Apple last week. Host Sam Charrington, founder of the industry research firm CloudPulse Strategies, talks AI news, and interviews expert CEOs, engineers, and researchers. For those founders of AI B2B companies, this is the perfect niche show to boost visibility. Airing three shows per week, a recent episode is Surveying the Connected Car Landscape with GK Senthil . Other episodes include Machine Learning Platforms at Uber with Mike Del Balso and Data Science for Poaching Prevention and Disease Treatment with Nyalleng Moorosi.

For B2B executives at all stages, guesting on the best tech podcasts can establish them as thought leaders, thereby increasing the company’s visibility, establishing credibility, and of course attracting new business.

{You may wonder how iTunes comes up with their rankings. It seems to be another of Apple’s well-kept mysteries. We do know that Apple updates the rankings continuously. They tend to fluctuate wildly. Daily rankings can be found at http://www.itunescharts.net/us/charts/podcasts/technology/ and at Podbay FM.}

How The Parkland Students Are Winning The PR Battle

Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, a small group of activist students have shown remarkable media and public relations savvy in taking on powerful forces who oppose firearm limits. In just six weeks, they may have accomplished more to raise awareness and change public opinion on gun safety than many well-funded groups before them. Though it remains to be seen whether they will ultimately make change, the accomplishment is extraordinary.

Why have they been so successful?

In part, it’s because they’re well suited to the mission. The Atlantic notes that the Parkland students quickly raised $3.7 million for future events, calling them “precisely the type of self-confident, socially aware teens poised to change the gun-control debates across the nation.” Maybe it’s because Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself was a journalist and women’s suffrage advocate who was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, but, unlike many teens, these students at the school bearing her name are deeply engaged in the world around them.

Timing helps, too. The Trump presidency has galvanized many who hadn’t engaged in politics before the 2016 election, or who took the outcome for granted. The last group to tackle the gun safety issue in such a high-profile way were the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They ultimately chose an “above-the-politics” path by focusing on spotting warning signs and prevention rather than more politically toxic solutions. It was a pragmatic and adult approach that took the power of the gun lobby into account. The Stoneman Douglas students, by contrast, are more quixotic and passionate in calling for legislative change. It’s like no one told them that it can’t be done.

A native grasp of PR, media, and visual storytelling

But the story here is not only about the right people at the right time. The Parkland students are also virtuosos of public relations and social media. They have used the media and the news cycle wisely and well.

They mastered the messaging

Immediately after the shooting, the students spoke out, using the national media focus on the tragedy to talk not just about their personal experience of terror, but to call for change. New York magazine recounts how survivor David Hogg came back to the school over his parents’ objections after finally making it home the day of the shooting. He flagged a Fox News crew and immediately offered an interview. “I don’t want this to be another mass shooting,” he said to the camera. “I don’t want this to be something that people forget.” Hogg has worked as a stringer for a local paper, and it showed. He and others who gave interviews in the aftermath were poised, articulate, and fearless in leveraging their moral authority as victims and survivors.

They’re authentic

The students agreed on broad steps toward change and specific words to articulate their goals, but their interviews were very raw and real. They reportedly rejected scripted sound bites in the days following the shooting and simply voiced their anger and grief toward the adults who had failed to protect all kids. “We call B.S.” was the rallying cry, and it promptly went viral.

They’re skilled at social media

From the time of the tragedy to today, the Parkland students have shown their adeptness with social media. The day after the shooting, Cameron Kasky came up with the hashtag #neveragain. He asked all on his social feeds to share and RT at exactly the same time: 3 p.m. on that Friday. The students’ mastery of Twitter is apparent in how they slap down criticism and rally support on the platform. Just ask Rick Santorum or Jack Kingston.

They understand visual impact

When 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez was asked by “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi why she broke through among the student activists, Emma’s response was, “It might’ve been my hair…. you know, just iconically you think of the picture and you think of a bald girl.” Now, personally, I think Emma Gonzalez is a lot more than just a buzz cut, but her response was revealing. This is the Instagram generation, and they have an instinctive understanding of the power of strong visuals. Emma looked like a warrior-heroine, and the public responded.

They identified the “enemy”

Some gun-safety groups have tried not to antagonize the NRA, but the Parkland students have been brutal in targeting the organization and its allies in Congress. The identification of a clear antagonist pits the young, idealistic students against a heavily funded and well established lobbying group, making them the David to the NRA’s Goliath. It’s a classic storytelling strategy and one that works particularly well when NRA advocates criticize the students as too immature or self-indulgent. (A better PR strategy for the NRA would be to try to partner with the student movement or at least show a willingness to listen, but that seems to have been abandoned after the CNN town hall.)

They know how to keep the story alive

The most challenging thing about a major news story like the Parkland tragedy is that it eventually settles down. But the students knew the press would want fresh faces to interview, so they organized a deep bench of media-savvy students and actually split them up among the media according to message and personality. Most importantly, they began planning media-oriented events that would bring a fresh take on the story for journalists and news crews. First came the White House meeting, followed by the CNN town hall. Then the students organized a 17-minute school walkout on March 14th. It all culminated in the March For Our Lives on the 24th, which offered a compelling visual resulting in saturation coverage. A professional PR and social media team couldn’t have planned it better.

PR On The Small Screen: 5 Great Shows

Stereotypes about the public relations industry abound in popular culture, and some are anathema to real PR professionals (see Samantha Jones in “Sex and the City”).

Happily, today there are TV shows that offer a more sophisticated and up-to-date look at PR and how it works. They can even help a company exploring PR learn a bit about what it can and can’t do, or at the very least have some fun in the process.

Shows that show PR

“Silicon Valley”

For anyone who works in tech and specifically tech PR, “Silicon Valley” mines a rich vein of parody as well as inspired humor. The show’s depiction of investors and start-ups, deal-making, rumor, and innuendo is ripped from TechCrunch, and they get a lot right. For example, in an earlier season, an investor in the fictional Pied Piper startup dumps his stock in the venture. Word gets out, prompting the team to hire a PR head to start damage control in a way that’s hilarious but relatable. For a somewhat more informative take, check out our wisdom for tech startups to determine the best time to bring on a PR agency.

“Scandal”

Most people know Olivia Pope. The glamorous D.C. queen of crisis PR bears very little resemblance to PR folk we know, but the show seems less outlandish given today’s crazy political news cycle, and there are episodes rooted in realism…well, almost. Olivia has been called to media-train politicians and everyday citizens for their “15 minutes” – something that seems to happen with frequency in the real world. Like some PR pros, she leverages media relationships to leak important secrets or to rehabilitate reputations. For a certain type of company suffering from chronic missteps, like United Airlines (which can’t seem to go a week without one), a strong and savvy fixer seems a good investment.

“UnReal”

This dark and wonderful send-up of reality TV’s “The Bachelor” also shows the use of public relations in interesting ways. This season the show-within-a-show, “Everlasting,” needs an image makeover after a scandal-ridden year. The producers set out to select a “suitress” (their “bachelorette”) with more intellectual heft and business success than the typical candidate to garner positive press. We liken the strategy to that of any company that has suffered a setback and chooses to better their image with a new hire as Uber did last year when replacing its CEO, for example. However, because this is a show that thrives on backstabbing and sabotage, it’s likely they will squander the opportunity.

“Better Call Saul”

The awesome “Breaking Bad” spin-off featuring “ethical-adjacent” lawyer Saul Goodman is full of great plot twists and dialogue, but we also love it because Saul is an old-school PR genius, as we’ve written before. We particularly like the goofy publicity stunt he pulls to gain exposure for his fledgling law practice. By appearing to rescue a fallen worker who dangles perilously from an outdoor platform while filming a TV commercial, Saul parlays staged dramatics into coverage on local TV news. Few self-respecting PRs would advise such a blatant, fraudulent stunt, but there’s still a place for a clever, well-managed PR event like this recent NYC subway makeover heralding the revival of ABC TV’s “Roseanne.”

“Homeland”

The last two seasons of the show seem ripped from today’s headlines — Russian social media meddling, right-wing broadcasters, and a beleaguered president. These forces converge in the aftermath of a Ruby-Ridge-like standoff fomented by an Alex Jones-type media personality and his followers. The impasse explodes in violence when a Russia-backed fake news story misleads the mob about the fate of a young man injured in the standoff between law enforcement and locals. The fictional President Keane, who has been struggling with negative media coverage all year, devises a plan. She stages a masterful media opportunity that brings together the widows on both sides of the conflict to mourn those killed. It’s all about the optics, as any good PR practitioner knows.

On the lighter side, for those who remember the popular 90s sitcom “Mad About You,” with Paul Reiser as a documentary filmmaker and Helen Hunt as his PR agency-owning wife, the show is looking at a reboot! If that’s the case, let’s hope they get the PR part right.

How PR Measures Corporate Reputation

Most public relations professionals know that a company’s reputation can be big factor in its long-term success. A positive public perception helps inspire employees, recruit new talent, protect a brand from negative PR, and differentiate its offering from that of the competition. When it comes to government relations and regulatory issues, a stellar reputation can complement an organization’s lobbying effort. It can even help a product or service command a higher price.

However, a PR pro trying to explain the inherent value of reputation to shareholders, bosses, clients, or investors cannot simply rely on her charisma. The idea of placing a dollar value on abstract drivers like brand attachment, image, trust, and admiration may seem improbable upon first glance. So we took a close look at the four major annual reputation reports to see how it’s done.

Measuring Corporate Reputation: Perception or Performance?

Both the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) and the Reputation Institute’s Reptrak survey the general public, while the U.S. Reputation Dividend Report and Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list survey corporate executives and financial analysts. Perhaps not coincidentally, those that survey the public weigh brand perception over financial performance. A pivotal part of Harris Poll and Reptrak’s research centers on measuring the “pulse” or “emotional appeal” of a given brand.
Both the Harris Poll RQ and the latest Reptrak placed Walt Disney Corporation at #5.  But they diverge on Apple and Google. Harris Poll ranks Google at #29 and Apple at #28, while Reptrak has Google at #3 and Apple at only #58! The only real difference in the two reports’ dimensions of reputation are that Reptrak considers “governance” as a driver of reputation while Harris Poll prioritizes “emotional appeal.”
measures corporate reputation
Meanwhile, the U.S. Reputation Dividend Report and Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies measure corporate reputation by surveying executives and directors from large companies as well as securities analysts.

Since both rely on a formula that takes financial performance into account, we see very different brands hovering near the top. Both reports rank Walt Disney, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Starbucks in their top ten. But what do these rankings mean for a company’s balance sheet? Reputation Dividend’s formula links reputation to market value.

“Understanding how changing investor interests play out at the company-specific level provides the critical framework necessary to make decisions about communications strategy.” 2017 US Reputation Dividend Report

The $$ Value of Reputation

The 2017 U.S. Reputation Dividend Report offers perhaps the clearest link between reputation and value to shareholders. The Report uses data from financial variables plus its nine drivers of reputation. It states that in 2017, $1 out every $5 of market capitalization in the S&P 500 comes from “confidence underpinned by company’s reputation.” And there’s another tidbit that offers insight into its value. While 20% of a company’s value comes from its reputation, on average, the highest-ranked corporations derive more than 40% of their market capitalization from reputation. The Walt Disney Corporation finished in the top spot here, earning an estimated 52.5% of its value from its widely recognized reputation, or the equivalent of over $90 billion.

So what does it all mean for reputation stewards at other, smaller organizations? While startups may not derive half their revenue based on corporate reputation, they should proactively build a culture-based reputation that grows along with the business. Early-stage companies may not be able to adopt this type of in-depth research, but the reputation drivers used are relevant to almost any business. They can be used to help inform brand values and external messaging, supported by specific “proof points” for each.

Whether the value of reputation is measured by charting perception, performance, or both, a brand of any size or sector can benefit by treating it as a critical business asset.

Global PR Trends And Practices In An Age Of Uncertainty

 

Every two years, the New York-based Corporate Communication International (CCI), conducts an in-depth survey of senior PR and communications officers at Fortune 500 companies about global PR trends. As a sort of “state of the communications field” analysis the CCI Corporate Communication Practices and Trends Study 2017 offers fascinating insights about the PR landscape today.

Speed Kills

Perhaps the most striking trend is the speed of the news cycle and pace of business. Since the digital mediascape is constantly changing, communicators must be agile and always ready to engage in a digital-first environment. Yet they’re aware that the cost of a mistake or a simple overreaction can be high. Any crisis communications team must be ready to respond at any hour to an escalating event, and that speed is vital. Communications professionals must act decisively to safeguard corporate reputation, and many worry that they may miss something.

“Corporate communication functions as the conscience for the business and as a vigilant lifeguard for the brand.”

The Age Of Uncertainty

The speed of the news cycle is compounded by today’s environment of mistrust and uncertainty. And the rules for wading into controversial or political issues are less certain than they once were. Economist Milton Friedman famously said that corporations’ only purpose is to make money, and that they therefore have no social responsibility. Fifty years later, the pressure on corporations to take a stand on politically charged issues is growing. The current Delta Air Lines vs. the NRA and state of Georgia saga is a perfect example of the delicate balancing act of creating and maintaining a company’s ethos – and the real world ramifications of doing so.

“ You must assess a situation quickly and determine a course of action quickly, often ahead of all the facts being known. That requires a high level of trust among senior leaders to launch without all the approvals knowing there is a desire and expectation to own and guide the story.”

C-Suite Turf Battles

As the external environment has grown more challenging, so has the corporate environment. The overlapping roles of corporate communications and marketing and dissolution of silos in some organizations have not always been smooth.  CMOs and CCOs (chief communications officer) jostle for influence within the corporation. Marketing departments often have significantly larger budgets than communications, yet the CCO’s voice must be just as persuasive.  Moreover, CCOs cannot control those functions that have the potential to exert a large influence over corporate reputation, like HR and advertising. Since corporate reputation has a large role in the success (or failure) of the enterprise, the CCO must serve as a strategic business resource and counsel to the CEO, even when in reactive mode.

“Reputation management as the #1 perceived role of corporate communication.” 

Focusing Inward

Another global PR trend in the Fortune 500 companies is the increased focus on internal communications. Corporate leadership recognizes the critical importance of getting everybody on the same page – no easy task in organizations with 20,000 employees. And since a single employee can talk about the company to thousands of external stakeholders at once through social media, the company must take steps to control its narrative. Over 80% of companies now have an employee social media policy. Companies realize that its employees should be the first line of brand ambassadors; therefore they must understand corporate brand values and how they translate outside the organization.

So you want to be a PR executive?

The good news is the communications profession is flourishing. Staffs and budgets are increasing. Corporate recruiting of communications professionals is now a priority. But what talents do publicly traded companies value in public relations pros? It’s not enough to be a well-trained expert communicator; you had better know business and the language of business. About 25% of the communications executives surveyed have MBAs. Because communications now bleeds into so many departments, the higher-ups must have a firm grasp of business strategy. It’s not just press releases and media training. It’s also about globalization, data analysis, and PR as a strategic business function.

The Evolution Of Social Marketing In PR: A Snapshot

history of PR

Nearly a decade after winning the vote, American women took to the streets in 1929 to march against the patriarchy in a brilliant New York PR stunt focused around … smoking? That’s right, in the innocent days before the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, public relations industry godfather Edward Bernays hatched an ingenious plan. His goal was to build competitive advantage for the American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike brand. Bernays and his client saw an untapped market. In the 20s, smoking cigarettes was a man’s pastime. (And sadly, the health risks wouldn’t be widely known for another 30 years.)

In the Broadway theaters of New York City, people would smoke during intermissions in special rooms under the orchestra. That is, men would smoke, since the League of Theaters prohibited women from lighting up.

Bernays sought advice from influential psychoanalyst Dr. Abraham Brill, a buddy of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. (Yes, even back then; it was all about who you know.) For the low fee of $125, Brill offered expert  counsel: “They (cigarettes) titillate the erogenous zone of the lips.” Brill suggested that females might want to light up to reject the taboo against the fair sex smoking. He called cigarettes “torches of freedom” for women.

A torch is passed

Bernays knew a good line when he heard it. He enlisted New York debutantes and their boyfriends to march in the Easter parade down Fifth Avenue while smoking. In one of the first ever media stunts, Bernays alerted the press that the protests would be happening and instructed the women to tell their stories to the major outlets of the time: newsreels, newspapers, and the three press associations.

Not only did the demonstration garner a front page story in the New York Times, but a mere three days later, American newspapers were reporting that women were smoking in the public squares in several major cities, including Boston and San Francisco. Weeks later, the ban of women smoking in Broadway theaters was lifted.

Female empowerment or exploitation by men?

Bernays “invented” modern PR by using psychology and media savvy to influence public opinion. He had started his career doing propaganda work for the U.S. government during World War I. Later, he would coin the term “public relations.”

The “torches of freedom” episode is an early example of the co-opting of a social movement for commercial purposes. But was it ethical? Clearly, Bernays used the growing women’s equality movement to sell cigarettes. But if the initiative did in fact promote women’s rights (even the dubious privilege of smoking) by fighting a double standard of behavior, then does it matter if a company profited? If the demonstration had been a true grassroots protest instead of a staged event for cameras, the American Tobacco Company would also have profited. But Bernays’ intent was expressly commercial, and he was a man attempting to dictate the path of women’s issues. The ethics are muddy.

Social marketing in 2018

Today’s PR professionals are a little embarrassed by Edward Bernays and his propaganda stunts, but – aside from the toxic image the cigarette industry later took on – are modern campaigns really that different? For International Women’s Day, it’s instructive to look at the famous Dove-sponsored Campaign for Real Beauty, launched in 2004. In some ways it is a similar co-opting of a cultural moment. Unilever’s Dove aims to sell beauty products, and it uses a powerful social issue to position its brand. Its PR agency studied women’s self-image and attitudes toward their own bodies to identify a legitimate concern. Perhaps one reason for the campaign’s success and its longevity is the need to broaden our definition of female beauty – a need that persists today.

Today, a company can be acting out of authentic social concern while simultaneously profiting from those concerns. Fast Company’s sixth-ranked World’s Most Innovative Company for 2017,  Patagonia, does exactly that by folding its social responsibility into its mission.

What makes the difference between true social commitment and exploitation? A company’s authentic intentions. An insincere or shallow corporate social responsibility program is usually easy to spot, and the public will call BS. When Pepsi produced an ad that was seemingly about the black lives matter movement it was roundly criticized. The ad, which depicted Kendall Jenner offering a Pepsi to a central-casting police officer, reeked of inauthenticity, and the brand promptly did the right thing in pulling it.

If Edward Bernays were working today, he’d need to grapple with our digital news cycle, consumer skepticism, and our collective craving for true engagement. Today’s corporate communications campaigns are more likely to tilt toward transparency, responsible stewardship, and authenticity. Those have to be counted as steps in the right direction.

How to Pitch Media Exclusives In Tech PR

Tech PR and media relations are sometimes a bit like dating. You must be thoughtful about when and with whom you become “exclusive.” If a PR pro fails to consider offering a story to media as an exclusive, he may forfeit a great opportunity. Overuse it, and he risks getting a bad rep with journalists.
What exactly is an exclusive? The word is a little misleading, because it sounds like you’re giving the story to only one reporter. But an exclusive typically means offering a key tidbit, news item, or interview to a single journalist with the understanding that he or she will be first. The story can then be released to other media after the exclusive runs.

So, why offer an exclusive? It gives the PR practitioner greater control over the story’s release, for one. If we prenegotiate the story on an exclusive basis, we often know exactly when it’s scheduled to run and can plan a full release accordingly. It may also result in a more substantial story than a simultaneous release to dozens of media. Finally, it can be good for building media relationships, particularly if the PR person chooses wisely and spreads the wealth over time.

How should PR pros use exclusives? Journalists cut their teeth using the famous double trinity: What, When, Where, Why, Where, and How. Let’s use this model to get the scoop on pitching media exclusives for B2B technology programs.

What is the story?

PR pros don’t pitch exclusives for the biggest stories – those will typically drive enough coverage without making the first-crack commitment to one journalist. Nor do they use them for the smallest stories, because that will damage their credibility with the press. What’s important is that the story has some juice, meaning the potential to rack up social shares and even traffic to the media outlet’s website. Startups and young technology agencies tend to flood the tech media with overly commercial product launches or low-value meetings with founders rather than solid story angles or truly newsworthy announcements. That’s not a good idea.

What works: an angel investor putting seven figures into a startup; a behemoth acquiring a smaller company for eight figures; or a young company makes record revenue of nine figures. The $ pitches are no-brainers.

“Big-name” pitches may also warrant an exclusive. If a known executive joins a company as an investor or an executive, the tech press will want to know. Even a negative story about a company’s loss of a CEO or a precipitous tumble in profits can work well as an exclusive, and it can pay off with future consideration for better stories.

Why pitch an exclusive to tech media?

The media like to break stories, so offering them such a scoop represents a valuable commodity for almost any publication. Ask yourself these questions when pondering the offer of an exclusive.

  • Does it improve the chances of getting a journalist interested?
  • Does it bolster relationships with certain media?
  • Does it result in a better (more substantial) story?

Whom do you pitch the story to?

The PR team’s carefully constructed media strategy will inform the choice of what outlet to offer an exclusive. Don’t forget: A well calculated exclusive in a respected tech trade publication can often attract the attention of other larger tech media. This spells exponential earned media.
While you cannot control the actual end result, you should offer it to a journalist who you know will produce a quality piece of reporting, as well as give it the appropriate placement in the publication. A PR person must never micromanage the reporter by pestering him/her about the content; or ask to see the story before publishing.
Since media relationships are the name of the PR game, it goes without saying that you must be absolutely sure you can deliver when promising an exclusive. That means everyone involved on the client side must know about the arrangement and agree not to let the story slip before the exclusive runs. It also means that any promised executive interview must go off without a hitch.

When do you offer a media exclusive?

It varies. Sometimes a journalist will run with a story within a couple of days, but it’s safest to allow a week’s worth of runway, and the PR person often must allow for a phone interview to be arranged, so the lead time can stretch into a week or  more. Most importantly, when planning to shop a story, it’s best to allow for one or two “nos,” which can eat up several days. Plan accordingly.

How do you execute the media exclusive?

On the PR agency side, it’s important to set the client’s expectations. The media strategy should be clear to all involved. Although there is often a greater measure of control when offering an exclusive story, just as in ordinary media relations, there is no guarantee of glowing coverage or perfect story placement.
The rest of the process depends on the nature of the story, the PR pro’s media relationships, and a gut instinct about where the story belongs.

Where do you go from here?

If you succeed in selling an exclusive to a top tier trade publication, it will publish the story first. Afterwards, you are free to blanket the media with the news, or possibly adapt aspects of the story to other media outlets. How long do you wait? You don’t. Digital media moves quickly, so don’t hesitate to get the story out. The exclusive that has just posted may discourage some media from picking up the news, but that’s not always the case. You can and should pitch additional relevant press right away. Once the story has gone wide, the PR pro will promote it with all the other communications tools in today’s arsenal, especially the social media channels. Post, share, and link!

Hope, Lies, And Public Relations

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As an industry, public relations has a PR problem. Stereotypes about the profession die hard; 14 years after “Sex and the City,” people still think Samantha Jones is a typical PR woman. Or maybe they liken PR to dirty tricks, like the antics of fictional Big Tobacco flack Nick Naylor in Christopher Buckley’s satire “Thank You For Smoking”. (P.S., it’s hilarious.)

PR Isn’t About “White Lies”

But the election of Donald Trump has brought a whole new spin to the art and business of…well, spin. It has also concerned many PR professionals and industry-watchers. Lou Hoffman recently posed the question in his post, “Will The Communications Industry Change Because Of President Trump?” Trump, after all, is a master at generating what we call earned media coverage. His campaign was remarkable for how it dominated the news cycle — for better or worse. As Fraser Seitel notes, Trump showed a winning PR strategy from the start. It seemed to prove the adage “Any PR is good PR.”

If you work in PR and depend on a stream of fresh young talent entering the business, that’s worrisome. Yet I agree with Lou Hoffman that Trump is unique, and therefore not likely to spawn many imitators in our business, even if they tried.

But what about the president’s own communications and press staff? Departing White House communications director Hope Hicks recently made headlines when news leaked that she admitted telling “white lies” as part of her job.

Oops. The “white lies” report brought a sharp rebuke from PRSA head Anthony D’Angelo. D’Angelo had barely finished defending our profession from incoming fire after a blistering profile of Hicks by Virginia Heffernan. Heffernan describes the 29-year-old as a “third-generation in a family of special-forces flacks” and asserts, “PR at that level takes moral flexibility, callousness and charm.” She sums up Hicks’ fitness for her job with the parting shot that lying to the media “is traditionally called PR.”

For the rest of us working PR people, that burns.

For PR, Trump’s Not Sending His Best

And the Hicks imbroglio isn’t an isolated incident. To paraphrase the president, when it comes to those who stand behind the press podium or craft statements for public release, Trump may not be sending his best. The rotating cast of characters makes “Veep” look like a documentary.

First came the hapless Sean Spicer – not exactly a paragon of truthfulness. The same can be said about his successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, although she shows more staying power. In between the two was Anthony Scaramucci, the shortest-lived but most colorful PR guy to land in any White House. The fact that he was dropped into the job after a career in hedge funds is exactly the kind of move that makes professional communicators roll their eyes. It should take more than smooth talk and photogenic looks to perform in a top comms post. I’d sure hate for anyone planning to enter the PR profession to think of the Mooch as any kind of role model, but I give them more credit than that.

The most conventional – and effective – PR guy in the White house may be the least visible one. That’s Josh Raffel, who has served as exclusive rep and spokesperson for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Considered by some White House press to be the most competent person in the West Wing, Raffel has a respectable PR agency background and a track record of honest wrangling with top press. Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, he’s another staffer who recently announced his departure.

There’s been so much upheaval, in fact, that this exercise makes me worry less about any future impact on the the PR profession, and more about the immediate effect on our government. As Lou Hoffman points out, Trump is a unique president, and his is an unusual White House. It is staffed with people who in many ways lack the typical background or experience for the job they hold.

When it comes to media relations and communication, the lessons of the Trump administration so far are clear. It’s mostly about what not to do. Don’t try this at work.