Building Media Lists That Get Results

It’s easy to relegate media list development to the remedial PR file —  things that are too basic to analyze or improve. But for PR and media relations people, a good media database is critical. Even the most stellar pitch is useless if the wrong people are targeted; a carefully selected list of fewer reporters will yield better results than a spray-and-pray approach. What’s more, the universe of journalists is always changing, so the humble media list is something that requires not only external database tools, but constant updating, re-creation, and reinvention.

PR tips for killer media lists

Consider all angles

The desired audiences for a story depend on the corporate communications goals involved, whether general visibility, opinion leadership, or product support. If your company has secured $10 million in Series B funding, it seems like a straightforward business/entrepreneurship pitch, but there may be additional sectors that maximize receptivity to the story. These may include industry beat reporters, local media outlets, women’s interest or multicultural media (in the case of a female or minority founder), or even lifestyle press. The target audiences will dictate which media to include, but be creative when thinking through the story possibilities.

Themes, angles, and beats

Once you’ve determined the story theme and the audience, you’ll need to consider all the possible angles from which you can present the story to the media. While this may seem easy and obvious, it takes a certain talent for “creative analysis” to avoid missing pitch opportunities. If your company that just secured the $10m is about to unveil a new mobile application that alerts you when an ex-boyfriend is nearby, then you may have some interesting crossover of angles to pitch, from relationships and lifestyle to data privacy to mobile marketing. Next, to choose the right reporters and outlets, you’ll need to brainstorm possible beats that might match your story angles. Once audiences, pitch angles and story beats have been confirmed, it’s time to jump into Cision.

De”Cisions”

Using a database platform like Cision may seem like a streamlined and easy way of tossing together a media list. But to find the correct reporter contacts for your pitch, you’ll need to speak Cision’s language. Basically, you translate your story’s themes into keywords that match desired beats. “Relationships” beat writers can be searched using keywords like lifestyle, romance, and women’s interests, while mobile marketing beat writers are found under terms like mobile apps, mobile computing, and mobile communications. But be careful not to go down the keyword rabbit hole into the wrong beats. While a mobile apps reporter may like the story, a telecommunications or consumer electronics reporter will be annoyed with your offbeat pitch.

Good media lists improve relations

It may seem harmless to fire off email blasts to a hastily prepared list of media contacts, but every irrelevant or inappropriate email will deduct media relations points from your PR account. That annoyed reporter may not open your next note, or any others after that. Note that you will keep the lists for different verticals separate, since they require different pitches. Don’t forget to consider the size and prominence of the targeted outlets. Some story angles will be so broad or high-profile as to demand national publications with huge circulations, while others may be tailor-made for trade outlets, smaller publications, or bloggers. We strive to avoid wasting any journalist’s time. See this earlier post for more tips on good media relations.

Read the fine print

When parsing the list of media contacts, it’s easy to miss clues that disqualify them from your outreach. Though they may cover the correct beat, high-ranking journalists like editors-in-chief or managing editors don’t review pitches from PR people. Additionally, keep your eye on the fine print in Cision contact listings. If it says, “not an appropriate PR contact,” trust that advice. If the reporter lists no contact email address or has a generic like stories@USAToday.com, do not include them. After you’ve exported your media list from Cision, it is imperative to double check the contacts using Google, since Cision is not always updated in real time.

Don’t stop at Cision

Cision is simply the starting point. Googling will not only serve as a double-check, but it yields additional reporter contacts. Use Google to check and see how often your listed journalists are published and if they tend to write relevant content. A contact listed under the “women’s interests” beat may write about anything from career to family health. And if a reporter has published only a single story in the past year, it’s a good clue that the contact’s information has not been updated in Cision. You may find that you have multiple reporter contacts listed for many outlets. Some PR pros believe that you should only pitch a single reporter per outlet, but we believe that in today’s fast-paced mediascape, pitching two or three reporters at an outlet is perfectly acceptable. Plus, some outlets like Forbes online enlist the aid of lots of freelance contributors who are not on staff.

A meticulously compiled media list of 30 reporters beats a haphazardly thrown together list of 200 any day of the week. Knowing your story themes and angles, the target audiences, and the right outlets – all in consideration of PR goals – will help pull together the best possible list. Consistently solid media research will lead to greater success and better media relations, which for most PR professionals is a top priority.

PR Guide To Agency-Client On-Boarding

If your company has hired an outside PR firm for the first time, you may have gone through an exhaustive search, conducted several meetings, and even done some negotiating before making a decision. So it’s usually a good feeling to finally sign the agency agreement. But what happens then?
On-boarding, that’s what. Many PR agencies have a proprietary immersion and startup process, but even if they don’t, on-boarding is a critical first step in the relationship. How each party handles it can set the tone for a partnership that could take your company to the next level.

On-boarding a new PR firm

Deep-dive meetings

The first order of business is immersion into your business by the agency team. We recommend a structure half or full-day meeting that allows for briefings by key department heads relevant to the PR program and goals. The PR team will ideally have a million questions, and a good client will want to be candid in response. We tell clients, if you’re in doubt as to whether to include something in our backgrounding, do it. Too much is never enough! And like a campaign manager digging for skeletons in a politician’s closet, the PR team will also want to know about problems, challenges, and reputation dings, whether public or not. Further, these kick-off meetings are the time when the respective teams get to know the players and determine exactly how they will work together.

Set up the metrics for success

Before the letter of agreement is signed, the agency and client should already agree on what general basis PR outcomes will be measured. But they’ll also need to decide on specific metrics for evaluating the PR program so there will be no surprises later. Today more than ever, public relations can get data on a wide array of metrics, so it’s critical to choose the right indicators to avoid wasting time and money. See this earlier post for more on how to measure PR outcomes. Pro tip: make sure you have a baseline for brand awareness and message communication before starting the PR campaign.

Awareness audit

Of course one can’t evaluate a fresh PR program without knowing the current state of the client’s visibility. This is where the perception baseline comes in; the PR team will conduct an audit of a brand’s media visibility, including searchable content about brand attributes, customer complaints, reviews, and an all-important analysis of earned media coverage. Depending on goals, an audit of key competitors may also be helpful. Be aware, an objective awareness audit can sometimes hold surprises. A media audit will also inform new messaging and even tactics.

Collect assets

The PR firm will ask for lots of existing marketing and PR documents beyond those it can find on its own, like previous owned and earned content. Additional assets may include proprietary market research, archived announcements, internal communications about business changes, executive speeches and biographies, award entries, and marketing plans. Another important asset is a less tangible one — historical relationships. The PR team will want to know which journalists, analysts and influencers with whom the client has cultivated good (or not-to-good) relations.

Align with marketing  

All tactical PR planning should be aligned with the company’s marketing efforts. The PR team will want to see previous and current marketing calendars – a key tools for the creation of a new PR plan. As noted in last week’s post on writing the PR plan, the team will use the marketing calendar as a guiding touchstone when crafting the new PR program.

Finalize the PR program

The centerpiece of all these efforts is the PR plan, a draft of which will be presented early on. Pay special attention to the timeline of the plan, taking into account key internal barriers or milestones (like a sales meeting or key conference) and building in time for approvals and changes. Make sure the plan offers enough tactical details so that there will be no surprises around execution times or the budget required. Remember that the best PR plans integrate with other corporate functions, ideally showing how a single initiative can be executed around paid, earned and owned media as well as shared across key social media platforms.

Agency-client infrastructure

Early on, the PR and client teams will set up the logistics of communication, establishing the day and time for the weekly call or meeting and quarterly check-ins. All the pesky protocols of who, when, and how are implemented before getting down to the daily grind. It’s during this time when it’s good to agree on etiquette and boundaries on both sides – instead of waiting for issues to arise.

Final touches

Finally, the PR team will set up monitoring and communications tools — shared document and file platforms, messaging, project management and collaboration tools, and other protocols for working together. Depending on the needs of the client, the on-boarding process can last from 3-6 weeks. A smart on-boarding will set the stage for good communication, high productivity, and a long and successful working relationship.

How To Write A Rock-Solid PR Plan

 

If you’ve been charged with developing the PR approach and plan for your company, get ready; you’re taking the first step toward a substantive achievement. Creating a high-profile PR plan can be daunting if you haven’t done it before. But a sound, carefully conceived program is a road map to success. Here are some fundamentals that will guide you in crafting a winning PR program.

Write a rock-solid PR plan

Define your objectives

Consider and prioritize your goals. Are you trying to attract investors? Supporting a product launch? If so, what are the sales goals, and where can PR make an impact? Is there a need to build or improve reputation? We ask a thousand questions when onboarding a new client, and the answers inform our plan. It helps to have a handle on your company’s current standing in the marketplace, its differentiators, and key competitive challenges or threats. The objectives should be clear as well as measurable.

 

Define and prioritize your audiences

Prioritize your audiences, from customers to stakeholder groups that may include employees, funders, distribution partners, and others. It’s rare for a program, particularly a B2B PR plan, to simply target potential customers. We typically include those who can influence potential customers, from industry experts to current clients and end users, and even vendors who might pass the word to prospects. The PR team will then research the behavior of these well-defined target audiences to fine-tune messages and tactics for reaching them. It will design different tactics to communicate to the various stakeholders — all in aid of the program’s objectives.

Get on the same page as marketing

The communications goals should align with or complement those of marketing, advertising, and sales – but they don’t have to be the same. For example, direct-marketing will nearly always have an impact on demand generation, while PR affects brand visibility and reputation. It’s helpful to use the company’s marketing calendar as a guiding star when crafting the PR plan. PR and marketing content are increasingly intertwined, as well. To determine which marketing assets could become useful for the PR plan, see this earlier post on how PR and content marketing work together.

Identify key campaign themes

The practice of public relations is about telling stories, and all good stories have compelling themes. They’re informed by consideration not only of the PR goals, but the marketing calendar, client feedback, and current industry conversations. The themes will guide pitch angles, content development, and thought leadership strategy. But realize that your messages won’t go out in a vacuum. Before designing the materials and tactics that will tell your story, consider what’s being talked about in and around the industry. What trends or challenges will affect your customers? When GDPR was approaching, tech PR teams were sure to pitch their data privacy experts for bylines and expert commentary. Additionally, always make room in the plan for reactive pitching.

Make an action plan

A good PR plan includes a variety of pitch angles and story ideas to drive media interest under each theme or message. While a startup may elect to limit its scope to core media outreach activities, most comprehensive programs will use all the best implements in the PR tool box to support thought leadership, analyst relations, research, and other tactics. Of course, any PR plan is dependent on budget, manpower – and time.

PR is all in the timing

Rock-solid PR plans have a strong sense of timing. Big company announcements should be carefully timed for maximum impact, keeping in mind other associated PR activities and seasonal news on the calendar. Visibility activities should be crafted to create a steady drumbeat of coverage. The PR plan will have set timetables both for activities and for assessment. It’s good practice to evaluate results at planned checkpoints every quarter and build in content flexibility to respond to category changes, take advantage of opportunities, and adapt to business moves. The best PR plans are fluid so they can be adapted to these changing conditions.

Ideally your initial 3-6-month program should be just the beginning; it’s the initial stage of a long-range program with broader goals. A stellar PR program can give a young tech company competitive advantage in a crowded, unstable marketplace. At some point, that young firm may grow out of its PR team. See this earlier post for tips on knowing when to bring in an agency.

Customer Service Is The "New" PR

The best PR agency in the world can’t hold a candle to employees who are empowered to do the right thing.

That was my thought when I read @scottmonty’s tweet about an incident involving a Wisconsin Costco. Monty’s screengrab recounted the experience of a resident stranded by heavy rains and flooding. Apparently the staff of a nearby Costco opened their doors to helpless locals, handing out dry clothes and even dragging in furniture when the store itself started to take on water.


The incident didn’t get a lot of attention, but you can bet it mattered to the people who count – the local community.

Good PR and great customer service have never been more intertwined. The best way to understand a company’s reputation — and its values — is to look at its response to customer reviews and complaints.

A business can spend millions on brand reputation and community service. It can employ high-powered PR agencies. It may invest heavily in customer service and response. But a reputation can unravel quickly when a public-facing employee mistreats a customer. We all know that an unhappy consumer won’t hesitate to take their case to social media. The good news is that the converse is also true, though it may happen less often. But that may be because many companies don’t realize that PR and customer relations are two sides of the same coin.

Just this week, I was disarmed by a funny and sympathetic cable company employee who got the brunt of my complaints after my favorite shows disappeared from the DVR. I was determined to lambast the hapless person who eventually took my call. In the end, though, he defused my anger through a combination of deft handling and the offer of a service call within hours. Like an upgrade for an unhappy airline passenger or a free cocktail for a delayed restaurant table, authorizing a rank-and-file employee to offer perks or benefits in a jam is very simple, and very powerful.

Public relations and customer service aren’t closely linked at most businesses, but they should be. Here are some ways companies can use one to help the other.

Align the goals of public relations and customer service

You get what you incentivize. A problem in some businesses is that customer relations staff are rewarded based on the volume of inquiries handled. If they’re instead evaluated based on complaint resolution rates, and/or customer satisfaction survey scores, the teams will be working toward similar goals. By the same token, the PR department or agency should be evaluated not just on positive earned media generated, but metrics related to enhanced reputation.

Use automation wisely

Automated customer service like emails and chatbots are superb tools when used well, but they can work against brand messaging and good PR if not. Automation should ideally be used not to avoid human interaction, but to do two things: preemptively answer routine questions or concerns; identify and escalate high-priority situations that require quick human intervention.

Double-down on messaging

We once represented a company that pioneered a specific kind of insurance available online at a great price. But some buyers failed to read and understand the lengthy policies they received, and they were surprised if claims were denied. Many vented frustration on consumer complaint boards, which were reflected in bad reviews for the brand. Our program helped educate prospective customers about the insurance and how it worked, but our team also liaised with customer service on a daily basis to spot, handle, and escalate complaints. We developed media and customer-friendly brand responses that showed a prompt commitment to resolution and pointed customers to earned media on how the insurance worked. It didn’t make everyone happy, but it showed that someone was home. The company was listening to its customers.

Empower CR reps to quickly resolve or escalate ordinary complaints

As mentioned, we’ve all had the delightful experience where a complaint is met with a quick agreement to waive a penalty or credit a finance charge. It’s often worth it for companies to give customer service personnel the leeway to make quick decisions for routine matters. Sometimes it’s not just the infraction itself that does the damage, but the lengthy wait where a complaint is escalated, or an infuriating lack of response to a problem.

Follow up on sensitive issues

After HBSC was sanctioned for money laundering, I decided to close an old account I had there on principle. When I called and the bank rep asked why, I shared my reasons. She acknowledged my explanation and politely ended the call. It might have made more sense for her to ask if a bank representative could contact me later or send an email recapping the bank’s public apology and amends made in the wake of its settlement. It would not have changed my mind in this case, but it might have softened my indignation. The opportunity to build a relationship, even when it starts with a complaint or cancellation, is always worth taking.

5 Trends Shaping Tech PR In 2018

At times, technology PR can feel like a shape-shifting beast — large, fast-moving, and even a little intimidating. In an earlier post, we discussed what makes tech such a different animal. Now we explore some 2018 trends and issues that continue to affect the tech PR sector. Of course, by the time this is posted, a new trend will have arrived to nudge the paradigm.

5 tech PR trends

Privacy regulations

The GDPR privacy rule officially blazed into our lives in May. Some thought it wouldn’t affect U.S. marketers so much, but in today’s digital environment, everyone is impacted. And it won’t be the last data protection or privacy regulation we’ll see. In July, the state of California passed its own data privacy regulations called CCPA, and other states are sure to follow. Like many companies, PR firms need to ensure that our content marketing and other campaigns are compliant with the new regs. On the bright side, GDPR has presented opportunities for data privacy and security thought leaders to build visibility and reputation through insights and expert commentary. Data privacy issues will only grow in importance in how we work as well as how we promote clients.

Big tech’s reputation challenges

Once upon a time, Facebook, Google, and Apple were viewed as shining examples of U.S. innovation and heroes of a more socially and commercially connected future. They’re still hugely successful, but things have changed. The 2016 election and the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal accelerated what has been a gradual erosion of Big Tech’s reputation. Many have come to believe that the tech giants have too much influence and that their growth threatens user privacy and possibly our well-being as a culture. For tech PR agencies who represent early-stage companies and other technology companies, the dominance of the giants extends into the mediascape, monopolizing the attention of key journalists. Yet as much as the Big Tech players can block out the sun, savvy PR people can also take advantage of their visibility by newsjacking or responding to the latest moves of an Amazon or Apple.

Data and more data

Every major trend in tech PR revolves around the collection and application of data, from cyber-security to account-based marketing (ABM). Internally, data can inform our PR strategy and make our branded content better and more engaging. data-driven storytelling drives some of our best tech PR campaigns by winning points with journalists, boosting end-user or customer engagement, and attracting the most relevant audience. Quality data has made better PR monitoring and measurement possible. And, of course, the data we create through our own branded research for clients creates news.

Artificial intelligence

We all know AI and machine learning technologies are infiltrating many aspects of or lives. For those who work in tech PR, AI has not yet radically changed the way we do business, though it has affected who we do business with — clients in everything from analytics to supply-chain software now use AI to enhance their products and services. As AI tools revolutionize the way we consume and monitor news, PR pros may be able to get faster and more accurate reads on a social conversation surrounding a brand — and perhaps be able to neutralize a crisis before it erupts. It may also help us measure the impact of what we do — from a media placement to the full brand reputation of a client. Plus, AI tools are playing a role on the other side of the media relations coin: journalists are beginning to use AI solutions to read pitches, generate story ideas, and gauge what their audiences want to read.

On the blockchain gang

Even if you’re not part of the ICO craze, blockchain will surely affect you if it hasn’t already. The tech PR world has no choice but to get with the “distributed ledger” program. Though the applied technology is still in its early days, its future is huge. Beyond payment processing and banking, blockchain has implications for fraud verification, digital ad transparency, influencer marketing and data privacy — in short, many of the concerns tech agencies and their clients currently face. There’s even talk of future blockchain applications in the practice of PR, which may be alarming since one of the main premises of the technology is the removal of the middle-man – PR firms. Not to worry, PR people. Wasn’t the internet supposed to do the same thing?

What Keeps PR People Up At Night

Aspiring PR agency professionals may be attracted by what seems like the industry’s more glamorous or high-impact moments. But if you talk to people who work in public relations, there’s plenty that makes for sleepless nights. In the agency world, there’s the daily stress of waiting for journalists to say yes, or the pressure of the big new client presentation, for example. Before taking that position at a PR agency, consider these things that PR people sweat over.

What keeps PR people up at night

Media ghosting

The PR pro got a hit for the client. She pitched the story, got a reporter to commit, facilitated the interview, and was told it would run. Hmm, don’t see it. The client is waiting. Refresh. Still nothing. The PR rep has been promised a story and in turn has made promises. But it’s not live and the reporter isn’t answering emails. What happened?
Sometimes breaking news will shelve a story. On rare occasions, a journalist may get sidetracked or overwhelmed and forget to communicate. Then it’s up to the PR pro to explain it to the client, which is a tough task, because she did everything right. It’s enough to keep a person up at night.

Will anyone come to my (PR) event?

Mounting any kind of media event is tantamount to planning a small wedding. But for the PR team, media attendance is a critical barometer of success. We manage thought leadership panels for B2B clients, and the best industry panels are well-attended, promoted, and covered by key media – but only if they show up! Sometimes the RSVPs come flooding in, but bad weather, breaking news, or simple bad luck can depress turnout. A typical PR team puts forth their best efforts, only to toss and turn all night hoping media who said the’d attend actually do so. A paltry turnout can spell disaster.

Orchestrating media interviews

PR pros like to be in control. We don’t like to be on the outside looking in when it comes to media interviews or briefings. So, when we’ve secured an out-of-town briefing between a client and journalist that we can’t attend, we tend to lose sleep. Will the reporter be on time? Will the client put his best foot forward? The PR pro plans for every contingency, but sometimes things happen – and those things keep us up at night.

Broken embargoes

Media embargoes are pretty common practice in tech PR, because skilled professionals want to make the most of any news announcement. Embargoes are a great tool for both PRs and journalists, but they don’t come without stress. One of the outlets may jump the gun and break the embargo. As a result, others may not publish the story as agreed, reducing the story count. The PR team can make a mistake leading to a poorly timed press release that breaks its own embargo, thereby damaging relationships with reporters. With so much that can go wrong with embargoes, it’s a wonder anyone gets any shut-eye.

Bad reviews

In the tech realm, clients may rely on positive product reviews from analysts and customers. In the same way customers look at comments on Yelp to choose a yoga studio or vegan bistro, most B2B decision-makers consider online reviews before making expensive investments on behalf of their enterprise. What if the result of the team’s efforts is rotten tomatoes? A powerful type of product review comes in the form of an analyst report. You can arrange a key analyst meeting, hoping for a glowing report that will position the client as an innovator and thought leader – and generate new business. But you can’t control the outcome, and at some point, it happens that a hard-working PR team has managed to facilitate… a bad review. Many feel helpless in the face of bad analyst or user reviews, because there’s usually nothing we can do to change them. See this earlier post for tips on better analyst relations.

Impulsive clients

There’s nothing worse than finding out about a client’s crisis situation by reading the news. When somebody inadvertently or purposefully leaks bad or damaging news, the PR pro is pressed into the unenviable task of damage control. Another insomnia-inducing scenario is when a PR team has an unpredictable or provocative chief executive who goes off-message on social media. The comms team (and the board of directors for that matter) for Tesla certainly lost some sleep this week over Elon Musk’s tweets about turning Tesla into a private company.

All the above PR sleep inhibitors have something in common. The things we worry about most are those we can’t control. It’s the same in any profession. So go ahead and pursue that PR career, but be forewarned. PR people work hard and play hard, and become addicted to the fast pace, especially in the New York PR agency world.
See this earlier post for advice on nailing that PR dream job!

PR Tips For Getting Speaking Engagements

 

In the technology PR sector, it’s our dream to have a client CEO deliver the keynote speech at a major conference, or to appear on a panel with illustrious peers. Executive speaking opportunities offer great visibility, built-in media coverage, and contact with prospective customers. As a bonus, speeches from conferences can also be recycled as bylined articles or video snippets suitable for social sharing.

But how does a young company generate such opportunities? Submitting a potential spokesperson for speaking engagements can be a full-time job. It can also be very competitive, with some exceptions. For female founders of successful technology businesses, there’s likely to be greater opportunity for plum speaking engagements, simply because they are so rare. But for more typical candidates, the submission process can be lengthy, labor-intensive, and overwhelming.

How to get speaking engagements at conferences

Look at last year’s conference program

Start by building a calendar of targeted conferences. The best way to gauge a conference’s relevance is by studying the past year’s program online. Past programs offer a wealth of intel, including the format and tone of the session abstracts, quality of speakers, and themes. These will be useful for creating a speaker proposal of your own. Some conferences like the Digiday and Digital Summit series offer guidance on submitting proposals.

Who goes to this conference?

Research conference attendee demographics, usually found on the website or program under the sponsorship, FAQ, or the “why attend?” tabs. What are the job functions and seniority level of the attendees? What size companies do they represent? Who sponsors the event? Peg your prospective speakers to their most important audiences; a CEO should be speaking to an audience with at least some C-level executives. If 70% of the attendees are from SMBs and startups, then it may not make sense for your enterprise-level executive to participate.

Pay-to-play or earned speaking engagement?

To avoid wasting time it’s good to know whether the speakers are generally from sponsors, vendors, agencies, or brands. If the speakers are mostly repping sponsors, the event leans toward a pay-to-play model. If you are a PR pro for a B2B vendor, make sure the conference welcomes such speakers without sponsorship. Most clients are interested in earned opportunities, because they don’t need us to secure paid ones.

Don’t wait to submit

Get in early. To find out when speaker submissions open, you often need to get on the conference’s email list. But don’t wait for that date. Ask smart questions to the coordinator even before submissions open. Submissions often ask for extensive company financial and biographical information, which will take time to be compiled and polished.

Know the coordinators

When submitting your speaker, do not try to sell or promote a product or brand. Instead, think of it as a collaboration with the coordinator to help them build outstanding conference content. Cultivate ongoing relationships with conference coordinators in the same way you would journalists and industry analysts. They’re every bit as valuable. Stay in touch, ask questions, and even take them out for coffee if local.

Bring a panel or a partner

A PR team can improve the chances of acceptance by proposing an entire panel discussion — if your company has the ability to assemble a top-quality group. Many conferences will shy away from accepting speakers from vendors and steer you in the sponsorship direction. If so, why not pitch a joint session involving a vendor and one of its client brands about how they worked together using an original approach to achieve a great outcome?

Have a point of view

As is true of the most compelling thought leadership content, speaker/talk proposals have to dazzle in order to be noticed. The best way to stand out is to have a novel point of view relevant to the conference program. Don’t be afraid of taking a controversial stand on a hot industry topic. Alternatively, you can outline a pressing industry problem and offer tangible solutions or fresh thinking that attendees will be eager to take back to their companies.

Set your sights high — but not too high.

Your client may have his heart set on a top-level meeting where he can rub elbows with enterprise-level CEOs or celebrity entrepreneurs. But most candidates need to pay their dues before being called up to the bigs. There are countless tech conferences that match every industry, business stage, size, and niche. And no matter how naturally dynamic your speaker may be, he or she can gain necessary experience before mingling at Davos or keynoting a Dreamforce conference. As the executive’s profile grows, you will find him being accepted — and even invited — to speak at more prominent events.

Twitter’s Alex Jones Problem Goes Beyond PR

Twitter stepped into a PR mess this week when it broke ranks with peers and declined to suspend conspiracist Alex Jones from its platform. The decision came after most tech giants hosting InfoWars content – Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and  YouTube — removed at least some of its pages or broadcasts in response to public pressure. Jones, of course, is the self-proclaimed “performance artist” who spins wild conspiracy theories and launches poisonous attacks on perceived enemies, galvanizing his hordes of fans in the process.

Jack Dorsey tweets draw backlash

In a series of tweets Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained that Twitter wouldn’t ban Jones or InfoWars because they hadn’t violated the platform’s rules. He admitted that Twitter has been “terrible” at explaining its decisions, then tweeted that it would continue to treat Jones like any other user. He will remain unless he engages in targeted harassment or other clear violations of Twitter’s terms of service.

Twitter’s problems with nazis, trolls, fake accounts, and misinformation aren’t new. And like Facebook’s struggle in the wake of the Russian account scandal, the issues are knotty and complicated. It goes far beyond a mere PR or communications problem. Even most brilliantly crafted public statement probably wouldn’t please Twitter’s critics. But @jack’s response to the Alex Jones backlash did contain several unforced PR and strategy errors.

Twitter changes direction

First, the move is starkly inconsistent with its past behavior. It comes in contrast to Twitter’s well publicized expulsion of hate groups and its elimination of thousands of fake accounts, bots and trolls. @jack’s tweets seek to make a distinction between what Jones does and the hate speech and targeted harassment by nazis and others, but to many of us, the line is very, very thin. The accompanying statement the company released did little to reconcile the two positions.

Worse, the explanation betrays a concern that Twitter would be blamed for “shadow banning” conservative accounts, a favorite accusation of far-right critics. If so, Twitter is guilty of the very politicized behavior that it claims to want to avoid. If it’s keeping Jones out of fear of conservatives who “work the refs,” it’s taking sides. Expressing political opinions and tweeting lies made up for dubious political ends simply aren’t the same thing. InfoWars is political, yes, but plenty of Jones’ content isn’t about politics, and it certainly doesn’t focus on issues. The false Sandy Hook conspiracy he concocted is a glaring example, and as the pizzagate situation showed, such content can be dangerous.

Media clap back on Twitter

Most baffling may have been @jack’s call for the media to step up in policing the lies, rumors, and conspiracies propagated by people like Jones. He tweeted, “it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.” He then rubbed salt in the wound by giving a rare interview to Sean Hannity.

You don’t need to be a PR expert to think that foisting responsibility on media for the pervasive “fake news” problem on social media is a huge stretch – and offensive to many in the press. And giving Hannity time didn’t exactly endear @jack to the dozens of journalists who’ve been clamoring for an interview. It’s hard not to think he’s pandering to the right in the handling of the decision.

Bottom line, social platforms exist to serve the needs of users and advertisers. Apple, Spotify and others dropped Jones’ content precisely because its users found it repugnant and made their views known. Like Facebook and the others, Twitter is a private company that can set rules as it wishes to optimize the experience for its community of users. Apple in particular has shown a willingness to stand up on divisive issues. Facebook has done it very reluctantly, in fits and starts. Twitter is trying to take its own stand, but its decision is far less defensible.

There’s no scalable solution

Twitter’s explanation that it can’t be the “arbiter of truth” seems like a red herring. The fuller explanation — “nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what’s true or false” — may be more to the point. No social platform is willing to pony up the resources to fight misinformation. The problem is just too big.
But here’s the thing – Twitter has an easy recourse if it really wants to suspend Alex Jones. It can do it on the grounds that he promotes hate speech. There’s plenty of ammunition – and plenty of cover – for that move.

Instead Twitter seems to be trying to take the high road by clinging to a nonexistent fairness principle and wrapping itself in a legalistic explanation that bears little relevance to how people use social media. It’s pretending that its rules are black-and-white when everyone knows that for any social platform, human judgment is involved in decisions about abusive content and suspensions.
There’s no way to automate against hateful, hurtful, and false speech. It takes human judgment to address the problem, and a human commitment at the top to wipe it out. There’s not a technology solution here, and that may be the heart of the problem.

Does Pay-For-Placement PR Work?

When companies choose a PR firm, the compensation model is usually a factor. Most PR agencies bill on an hourly basis, or in monthly retainer fees. But there’s another way of billing that’s fairly controversial among agency professionals,  — the pay-for-placement method.

Can it work?

We may be biased, because we’ve never worked on a pay-for-publicity basis, but it’s fair to ask if it can be a better model for some clients. So, we talked with someone here who used to work at a pay-for-placement agency and did a little research.

The pros & cons of pay-for-placement PR

Pro: You get what you pay for

When hiring a PR agency, companies often ask, “How do I know you’ll generate results?” And it’s true, when it comes to earned media, PR teams can’t guarantee exactly when the coverage will be generated, nor do we have perfect control over the content. Clients may wonder if their firm is working as hard as they should for the retainer, or billing the right amount of hours. In theory, at least, pay-for-placement eliminates the uncertainty that comes with other billing methods.

Pro: Just gimme publicity

Maybe the model works for a smaller company whose PR needs are limited to earned media. If an early-stage company or startup feels it just doesn’t need a PR agency partner to help develop communication strategy and it has little need for overall reputation management, messaging, thought leadership, media training, or other benefits of a PR services partnership, then a simple pay-to-play publicity package may suffice. But it’s hard for us to imagine how the publicity results can be truly high-quality without a proper strategy, message development, and ongoing agency advice.

Con: Quantity over quality?

You get what you incentivize. So the pay-for-publicity method would seem to emphasize quantity over story quality. X dollars for X media placements sounds equitable, but a given story may have far less actual publicity value than another. Some articles may feature the company or product prominently, while others may only include a mention; articles vary in length and tone; some stories may be highly searchable, while others are behind a paywall. For a B2B tech company, great coverage in a trade publication or a good review by an analyst may yield greater value than a feature in Forbes. The dollar value doesn’t consider any of these factors, and if it does, it’s probably hopelessly complicated.

Con: It discourages fence-swinging by the agency

Generating large, high-impact media coverage in a top-tier business publication or TV news program can take months. An agency that operates on the pay-for-publicity model still has to pay its salaries, so chances are its team won’t invest the time in the big-ticket stories that take time to deliver. And the client may lose out on a typical agency’s value-adds related to media relations and merchandising of earned coverage. A good PR team will seize reactive media pitching opportunities that pop up with breaking news, but they don’t quit when the article goes live. PR pros amplify and leverage any earned media wins to maximize impact. This can be absent in a pay-for-placement relationship.

Con: It’s too transactional

The highly transactional nature of the pay-to-play system can limit the client-agency relationship, and the value both parties derive from it. When a PR team truly knows the client’s brand voice and is immersed in its culture, it can tell its story most effectively. But again, that takes time. PR teams whose financial model encourage them to invest the time in long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with clients will offer a deeper level of service than those simply looking to score media placements for fees.

Big con: Pay-for-placement can invite abuse

The pay-to-play mindset may tempt some to cut corners or worse. Just last month, Buzzfeed exposed a  contributor who was taking payments from clients in exchange for linked mentions in his own articles in media outlets like Entrepreneur. PR agencies have also been caught offering journalists kickbacks to publish for their clients —  payola, plain and simple. Because of this, many journalists frown on the PR pay-for-placement compensation practice; TechCrunch announced it wouldn’t work with such agencies.

Done right, the pay-for-placement model can probably work for companies at certain stages of development. But given PR’s relevance to a company’s overall reputation and its role in helping attain business objectives, most can’t afford to neglect a fully realized PR approach, no matter the client-agency billing system. For a deeper dive on various agency billing models, check out this post on how PR agencies budget and bill.

PR Tips For Reactive Media Pitches

A company’s expertise on a subject can become instant PR currency when that topic is in the news. PR teams can take advantage of sudden extra relevance by immediately pitching a client as a news source to media hungry for pertinent expertise. Some call it newsjacking. But in truth nothing is being “jacked” or stolen; instead something is being offered — ideally in the form of informed commentary. Here are the PR fundamentals for reactive media pitches.

PR tips for reactive media pitches

Combine automation with human monitoring

PR people are news junkies, and many start scanning the headlines before hitting the snooze button. But eyeballs can’t catch everything, so most set up digital news alerts. From Google Alerts to more formalized media monitoring platforms like Cision, there are number of tools to help identify relevant items quickly. For example, if you rep an online roommate pairing service, you will want alerts on news topics like the apartment rental market, housing regulations, or even roommate horror stories. Once you spot the opportunity to showcase your client’s expertise, it’s time to pull together a smart media pitch – on the double. Keep in mind if you’re seeking to be included in some reactive news, “day of” is essential. But contrary to convention wisdom, some stories may by their nature have the legs to last.

Reactive is a not always a rush job in B2B PR

If the top media targets are in tech or trade press, some breaking stories have such large ramifications that they could never be resolved quickly. Many tech-oriented narratives, from ongoing privacy breaches to Facebook’s role as a tool for Russian disinformation in the 2016 election will be discussed for months and years after the fact. Another example is the YouTube brand safety crisis.  The story of major brands finding their ads featured along side extremist propaganda and pornography has been going on for many months. So subject-matter experts in the many segments of ad tech had multiple opportunities to offer expert commentary as the story evolved. A good PR team will milk the ongoing opps for all they’re worth.

Ready before the news even happens

When assembling that brief but compelling pitch, the PR pro will include a quote from the subject-matter expert or SME. To save back and forth, we often create a spokesperson quote for client approval instead of asking for a comment and waiting for a busy client to craft it. Over time, the PR team can build a library of pre-approved client content for use when relevant news hits. It requires legwork, but prepared content allows for a fast reaction, and the media like it so they can file quickly. We have seen this strategy work particularly well on behalf of our cyber-security-focused clients. Data breaches and hacks have become almost a daily occurrence, necessitating a steady stream of reusable content. Having that library has been critical to our success.

Choose the right media

The PR team should compile a mini-media list that begins with those journalists who reported the trending topic. Though their stories have already been published, many will retroactively include insightful commentary into their pieces. Others will also write follow-ups that lean on your SME’s expertise. After that, you can broaden the outreach in a follow-up. Other reporters on relevant beats may be hustling to cover the same topic, and your SME may be a big help in bringing a fresh perspective to the story. You may then want to cast the net more widely to those media who may not have considered the topic – in which case the existing context will be a good selling point.

Don’t forget owned media

While the PR team is pitching media, the client can make good use of owned media channels, building more in-depth collateral and content through whitepapers, vlogs and podcasts, or guest blog posts. These assets can be powerful forms of thought leadership and effective marketing materials for customers or prospects seeking information about the breaking news. As a bonus, the content can also be used be re-purposed in briefing materials to help ready a spokesperson for any interview requests that require more depth versus a quick soundbite.

The reactive media pitch by definition cannot be planned, and it takes extra attention and agility, but the outcomes can be very positive. In a PR world where you’re always battling for a reporter’s attention, a reactive news opportunity can be a quick win for the client and the agency. As well, it’s often a great way to get on a journalist’s radar and begin a longer-term relationship.