Crenshaw Starts The New Year With New Clients

As the calendar turns to 2019, Crenshaw Communications welcomes new technology companies to our client roster: BrandTotal and LiveIntent.

BrandTotal is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) startup based in Tel Aviv and NYC, that has developed a marketing platform built by cybersecurity experts from the Israeli Defense Force. It was founded in May 2016 by high school buddies Alon Leibovich, Omer Ramote and Amir Leshman. Working with some of the world’s most reputable names, BrandTotal is a high-tech and VC-backed agile marketing intelligence company that helps enterprises reverse-engineer the marketing strategies of their competitors. By applying advanced cyber security techniques and artificial intelligence, BrandTotal uncovers and analyzes competitors’ “dark” marketing efforts, illuminating their strategies and tactics.

LiveIntent is the “people-based marketing technology platform that makes email your superpower.” With offices in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Berlin, Copenhagen, and London, its global teams have unlocked the power of email for over 2,000 of the world’s biggest brands and publishers since 2009. The company first launched as a social media platform for online publishers at TechCrunch Disrupt back in 2010, when it became the first programmatic platform to buy and sell ads in email.

 

Eight Best PR Practices For Startups

Since before Mark Cuban famously warned tech startups against bringing on a PR agency, there’s been a debate about public relations for early-stage businesses. There’s plenty of free advice for how to build the kind of earned media visibility that well-known brands like Uber or Casper enjoy.

But does a startup business always need to hire a PR agency? The answer is no. PR is a useful brand-building tool for startups, but it can be done by an internal team or an external PR firm.

B2B PR campaigns in particular can benefit from a PR program. That’s because promoting B2B products and services often involves vertical or trade press, which is easier to penetrate than mass media. And it’s less expensive to amplify earned media coverage with paid media or marketing tactics like SEM, email marketing, and paid social.

But no matter how it’s done, public relations is very versatile, if sometimes misunderstood. In skilled hands and in the right situation, it’s “insanely valuable.” Those aren’t my words; they were written by VC and entrepreneur Mark Suster. In fact he gives PR more credit even than I would, outlining the ways in which it supports vital business functions for early-stage companies. The most significant benefits aren’t even about marketing; they include fundraising and recruiting as well as brand-building and customer acquisition.

Whatever your point of view on outside agencies, handling PR and media relations for an early-stage business is a blend of art and science. Experience counts, as do many other variables like the economic climate, the competition (or lack of it) and – very importantly – the character and charisma of the founder(s).

Here’s what we’ve learned after working for ten years in PR for startups.

Focus on relationships

Yes, there’s a reason it’s called public relations. Sometimes you get lucky and you land a story with a reporter you haven’t worked with before because it’s timely, relevant, or perfect for that particular media outlet. Or you meet an influential person whom you can tap later to speak on behalf of your business model or brand. But much of the art of media relations and PR involves making real connections. Remember, your story is unlikely to be a journalist’s priority. So it helps to get to know them not only by reading their stuff and following their social feeds, but by reaching out with useful information even when it’s not your story. Think in terms of building a relationship, not making a sale.

Tell, don’t sell

This is part of relationship-building, but it’s worth noting on its own. Even if your new SaaS platform is the coolest and most disruptive tech ever, it’s not wise to focus solely on its features and benefits, and it’s worse if the pitch is drowning in jargon or technical terms. Instead, tell a story that anyone could understand at a cocktail party. What persistent problem does it solve? How did the idea come? What breakthrough or industry change made it possible? We work with many technology startups whose business seems dry and narrow on the outside, but when you scratch the surface to identify and shape the narrative, a compelling story emerges. The founder’s early zeal and sacrifices, the risks, the trial-and-error nature of startup business breakthroughs — they can differentiate a business in a way that no sales deck really can.

Think outside your industry

Tech startups can be insular; at times founders and others believe their mission is more important that others do. When hard news isn’t happening in a business, however, it helps to think outside your world. What’s happening around us will always be relevant to media. Work to develop a point of view about the workforce, relevant government policies, business culture, leadership, even pop culture or another broad topic and weigh in with your own content or comments.

Embrace competition

Often startups like to say they have no competition. They see their business as unlike any other. Or, maybe they want to minimize attention to competitors. In some cases they have truly created a category. But paradoxically, competition usually means journalists will be far more interested in covering your product or service. One company is an isolated example; more than one means there’s a trend, and a potentially bigger story. So, don’t be afraid of positioning a startup within a new and exciting category, or as disrupting an old one.

Be consistent

Many startups are pressed for resources, so they should be certain of their top goals and priority messages at the outset. Above all, it pays to be consistent when it comes to building media and influencer relationships. Even if you can only spend two days per month on PR and media relations, it’s important to keep at it. If you’ve developed relationships or even a few months of give-and-take with the key figures in a given sector, it will often pay off in greater coverage for news. Most earned media stories (what we call the editorial features and interviews that result from our efforts) take time to germinate, and an off-and-on strategy is a sure momentum-killer.

Consider the big picture

It’s great to have news — a fat funding announcement, a sexy new product, or a growth milestone. But no one piece of news is as important as the larger story. It all needs to be part of the road map that leads to a compelling brand narrative. The art of PR involves helping media and analysts “connect the dots” and gain a fuller impression of the business and its importance in its category. Consider how these DTC (and traditional) companies use storytelling as a powerful PR and marketing weapon.

Create content, content, and more content

If you can only do one thing, consider a founder’s blog. Yes, it takes time and energy, but for many entrepreneurs, it gives voice to the very trends and observations they’re articulating one-on-one to partners, investors and employees. If regular posting is too big a lift, consider a quarterly piece of longer-form content that can be broken up into individual thought pieces; or, plan video updates that address hot-button issues. What’s important is that it gets your brand out there with searchable content and helps you shape a point of view on relevant topics. Here are some tips on developing sound content strategies as part of a PR program.

Participate

If you’re not prepared to participate in your company’s PR program (or have a key executive dedicate time to it), then you should probably rethink the PR investment. Even the most talented PR need can’t operate autonomously. It takes time, input, and active participation from the client to make the magic happen.

How To Get A Fast Start On Your PR Program

For PR agencies, winning new business is an imperative for growth, but it’s only half the battle. For those of us who work with entrepreneurial businesses, or really any results-oriented company, the next pressure point is a strong start. We never want a client to be asking, “what’s next?” so we need to get a jump on their expectations, and that means moving fast.

A quick start for a PR campaign can raise confidence among external (or internal) clients and lay the groundwork for a successful long-term program.
Here are five things that PR people should know and do to get things moving quickly, without sacrificing quality.

Immersion is key to great PR

Paradoxically, it takes time to go fast. A great deal rests on the quality of the PR team’s immersion. Understanding a client’s business is fundamental, and a good agency will know what makes it tick, setting the pace for the planning and execution. When good recon is traded for a ‘learn as you go’ approach, the entire campaign could falter — especially if a PR team must service multiple business units at once. A recent example here at Crenshaw involved a program where B2C, B2B and B2B2C initiatives were designed to complement each other and generate simultaneous awareness for a security brand. Each segment had different distribution channels and end users, so a working knowledge of their business was needed to create the proper strategies. What that usually means is an in-person visit to the client, or at minimum a half-day skype session where we interact with all key officers. One high-quality discussion is worth a thousand powerpoint decks.

Set a communications cadence early

Whether inside a corporation or at a PR agency, the typical campaign isn’t easily quantified early in the campaign. That makes establishing a clear communications protocol and rhythm with a new client important from the start. Doing so communicates that the PR team is proactive, transparent, and ready to lead. Once a PR program gets going, teams should decide on a weekly day and time for client calls, determine who the daily point-of-contact will be and be sure to interact with a client at least 2 – 3 times per day to make them feel the value of their investment.

Be aggressive in getting all assets

Even after the initial immersion, PR teams must often push for key startup assets from a new client — things like past coverage, executive speeches, marketing calendars, customer stories, and more. Beyond archived and published content and plans, there’s also likely to be “thought capital” in the minds of C-level executives and marketing leadership. It always pays to include leadership in the onboarding process, of course, but one-on-one follow-ups may also be necessary. This isn’t a time to be shy; our fuel is information and insight, and even if it takes a few days to go through historical assets and arrange phone calls, there’s no better way to maximize the first month of outreach.

Get your PR plan together

The PR plan is a principal piece for getting a strong start, naturally. A good plan will marry client assets with a PR team’s story-mining acumen to create a roadmap detailing upcoming client news, proactive pitch angles and plenty of flexibility to respond to trending news for reactive commentary opportunities. Presenting a well-designed PR plan to a client within the first week or two of the campaign demonstrates initiative and gives the client confidence that their agency is eager to drive results on their behalf. See this earlier post for tips on writing a rock-solid PR plan.

Identify quick wins

Earned media often builds upon itself. That’s why it can pay to identify some “quick wins” – media who are predisposed to covering a client’s story; internal data that can be repurposed into a news item; or the nugget of a blog post that can be expanded into a bylined article for timely publication. Most of these opportunities won’t be huge ones, but they’ll inspire confidence and build momentum for bigger wins down the road.

Monitor and know your media

Often, the first month of a new campaign consists of onboarding and finalizing planning collateral before diving into proactive outreach and generating results. During these initial stages, PR teams should be proactive in understanding who their media targets will ultimately be and what sort of stories might include the client to raise thought leadership capital down the line. For example, PR people working with cybersecurity companies will know that the vertical has a finite pool of contacts who have a very in-depth understanding of the space. These media aren’t vulnerable to being fooled or falling for ‘spin’. Knowing the media from the get-go helps PR teams snag the attention of key contacts faster, react to trending news more efficiently and targeting pitches for optimal results.

Preparation, foresight and planning are all vital pieces of the puzzle when it comes to getting a quick start for a new PR campaign. If done well, a new program can run like a well-oiled machine from out of the gate.

3 PR Takes On YouTube’s Brand Safety Scandal

YouTube was hit with a major brand safety crisis this week after a blogger revealed that a community of predators have been using the platform to view content in inappropriate ways that exploit children. In the wake of the scandal, some of YouTube’s biggest advertisers, including Disney and AT&T, have pulled the plug on their ad spend – at least for now. To its credit, YouTube has been aggressive in its response, promising to clean up its comments system, improve its video recommendations engine, and apply more stringent brand safety standards.

From a PR perspective, there are a few takeaways from the controversy that are important.

YouTube has learned from its mistakes (believe it or not)
A year ago, YouTube was constantly plagued by brand safety issues. Every brand – from IBM to Under Armour – was pausing ad investment left and right. The frequency of the scandals created notable hesitation among advertisers and marketers. Worse, there was a sense in the industry that YouTube wasn’t being aggressive in dealing with the problem. But that changed in subsequent months after the platform announced new capabilities and initiatives to ensure brand safety, including more human auditing and better technology. YouTube knew, however, that similar controversies would arise in 2019 given the UGC nature of the platform. This time, it was more prepared, and it shows. Compare their response, for example, to Facebook’s reaction to its data privacy scandal, which has gone from bad to worse.

The cycle is predictable, and brands are prepared
From the coverage to the brand responses, there is now a clear pattern after every YouTube brand safety crisis. There is deserved outrage and criticism, followed by major brands walking back ad spend for the platform. Whether you’re Disney or P&G, brands now have a process in place to deal with YouTube’s challenges and protect their standing as good corporate citizens. They can announce that they’re pausing spend, generating more proactive and friendly headlines. Then, quietly, weeks later, they will return to YouTube until the next scandal hits. Rinse and repeat. At the end of the day, YouTube’s audience is too big for advertisers to ignore. And as a longform video platform, its scale is unmatched and irreplaceable.

Each scandal is a win for other platforms and publishers
As YouTube sees negative headlines over its community and the way content is served, other video platforms — from TikTok to Instagram — are likely thrilled. While those platforms are also user-driven, which creates challenges for ensuring appropriate content, any bad story about YouTube is a good story for them. It allows competitors to highlight their value and possibly win YouTube dollars that are ripe for being reinvested. Premium digital publishers also benefit from the scandal. It gives them an opportunity to present their content as a “walled garden” that is high quality and brand-safe by comparison. Bad YouTube stories are good stories for publishers everywhere. And I expect them to newsjack the controversy and shift focus back to their own attributes in order to win over YouTube’s upset partners.

In the end, however, YouTube will be fine. Advertisers will flee, then they’ll return. The rhythm of these controversies is obvious, and for the next scandal, I will likely just repost this piece.

PR’s Top Tech Events For Executive Speaking Gigs

Sure, it’s only February, but if a technology company is serious about a consistent thought leadership drumbeat at industry conferences, its PR team needs to be nailing down third and fourth-quarter events now. Tech conference programming teams begin developing their themes, tracks, and agendas many months in advance, of course. Events open their speaking proposal submissions six to twelve months ahead of time, and sometimes they close submissions more than six months out. Even if a conference has an “always taking submissions” policy, it pays to get your topic and speaker proposals in as early as possible. Since earned speaking engagements at industry events are the more glamorous gigs for thought leaders, I’m featuring eight of the major technology conferences and events later this year. Get your speaker submissions ready!

8 top tech events for thought leadership

VentureBeat Transform, July 10-11, San Francisco

VentureBeat Transform focuses on “accelerating your business with AI” in 2019 and is a thought leadership event and great networking opportunity for C-suite executives. Although there is no set deadline, PR teams should submit their most experienced, highest level executive speakers very soon to have a chance to stand out among hundreds of proposals.

Fortune Brainstorm Tech, July 15-17, Aspen, Colorado

This annual invite-only “summer retreat for leaders of fortune 500 companies” provides high-level networking opportunities, so only established C-level thought leaders should apply. If your emerging tech company has a CEO with experience on stage, and who has clearly chosen a bold, trailblazing stance on industry issues in the media, Brainstorm Tech can be a great opportunity to take a company profile next-level.

Inbound 2019, September 3-6, Boston

Hubspot’s annual martech industry bash Inbound brings celebrity clout to its keynote stages in the form of eminent stars of sports (Alex Rodriguez), entertainment (Shonda Rhimes), and politics (Michelle Obama). But it also accepts earned speaking topic proposals for its breakout sessions, which still can attract hundreds of audience members to your talk. Deadline for submissions is February 22, so hurry!

DMEXCO, September 11-12, Cologne, Germany

An expo with a thousand exhibitors and a conference with 18 stages, it doesn’t get much bigger and flashier than the annual marketing, technology, creative and media industries behemoth. DMEXCO keeps its speaker submissions open year-round, but again, a quality abstract and speaker submission in February has a better chance than one in August.

Advertising Week NY, September 23-26, New York

AW takes over New York City each autumn as almost 100,000 marketers, advertisers, technology, and brand professionals descend on the big apple to check out over a thousand speakers in four days of networking. To grab a coveted spot on stage for the 16th New York Advertising Week, submit a speaker and/or an entire seminar topic idea via online portal by May 23.

Mobile World Congress LA, October 22-24, Los Angeles

PR teams should keep this year’s tagline of “intelligent connectivity” and its four themes in mind when submitting: 5G, IoT, Disruptive Innovation, and Immersive Content.  Like its big brother event Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, MWC LA is a massive combination of expo and conference boasting over 20,000 attendees. Deadline is May 1.

ANA Masters of Marketing, October 2-5, Orlando

If you’re a martech or adtech solution provider or a big brand marketer, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) flagship annual conference Masters of Marketing is a great choice to gain visibility, network, and generate leads. But note that tech solution providers must bring a brand client co-speaker along to be considered for the agenda. Also, ANA recommend you submit at least 6-months in advance to have a chance at selection.

Web Summit, November 4-7, Lisbon, Portugal

From the same producers of Collision Conference in Toronto comes perhaps the most sprawling of the world’s tech events, which is covered by over 2,000 media each year. Web Summit is unique in its division into 24 separate tracks, or summits within the summit, ranging from “binate.io” for all things data to “SportsTrade” for the business of sports. Speaker submissions are open year-round, but, of course, get your proposals in early for a better chance at a plum earned stage opportunity.
Tech companies looking to establish an executive thought leader as subject matter expert should keep a rolling calendar of relevant industry conference targets, complete with submission policies and deadline dates. Getting ahead of the game is key, since event programmers seek to solidify their agendas months in advance, and they are deluged by hundreds of proposals. See our earlier post for PR tips for getting speaking engagements.

Behind Amazon’s Magic PR Touch

Big Tech’s reputation has taken a beating lately. Facebook’s clumsy handling of its data privacy scandals has been a PR and government relations disaster. Apple always had a love-hate relationship with the press but was admired for its innovation. Recently it has lost that luster, and the bizarre FaceTime bug dented its status as a security model. Google, too, faces data privacy challenges, as well as periodic revolts by its own workforce. Over the past year it was forced to abandon millions in lucrative military contracts and it’s now under pressure over plans to build a censored search engine in China.

Amazon attracts scrutiny but escapes the worst of the techlash

Somehow, Amazon has escaped the worst of the techlash, at least for now. Take data privacy, for example. As a retailer and also a marketplace, Amazon has steadily grown its digital advertising business and now may pose a real threat to Google and Facebook.

Regulators don’t seemed too concerned yet, but Amazon knows what we buy, where we live, what we read and watch, and what we say to Alexa. It collects a huge amount of data from consumers who are in shopping mode and will only grow as an ad platform. The privacy implications are clear, but no one’s really pressing the case.

Amazon has also been deft in managing its reputation as a tough employer and indifferent corporate citizen. After being blamed for soaring housing prices, homelessness, and overcrowding in Seattle, its response was a “Bachelor”-style sweepstakes to find a new office, brilliantly packaged as HQ2 – a second headquarters. The search reaped huge PR benefits over a period of 14 months, as well as a gold mine of data about major U.S. markets among the 238 proposals received. It was a masterful campaign that helped change Amazon’s image to one of a desirable corporate neighbor and employer.

Of course, the positive PR was laced with cynicism, and its plans to open an office in Long Island City, New York triggered an unexpected backlash. So, what did Amazon do? Rather than face months or years of protests from locals, it simply bowed out. Now the onus is on the city to explain why 25,000 jobs won’t be materializing. Advantage, Amazon.

It’s also interesting that on the same day, the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy reported that Amazon’s tax bill for 2018 – based on $11.2 billion in profits – was exactly $0. The absurd number should have set off a wave of negative stories, given Amazon’s long history of skirting sales and other taxes. But lucky for Amazon, the tax story was mostly eclipsed by both its own announcement that it would scrap the New York plan, as well as the runup to Trump’s state of emergency declaration. As they say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. In this case, Amazon was both.

Bezos earns respect and even admiration amid scandal

The most stunning PR moves of all, of course, have come from Jeff Bezos himself. His acquisition of The Washington Post may or may not have been a move to launder his own reputation, but if so, it worked. Years after the Google and Facebook started sucking up digital ad revenue from newspapers and other media, even hard-bitten observers admit that the billionaire rescue model has worked. (Never mind that Amazon is the next adtech giant.)
One consequence of the WaPo deal was that it made Bezos a Trump target on Twitter – eliciting sympathy, or at least schadenfreude, from the elite. But the The coup de grace was the recent AMI scandal. Media and pundits cheered when Bezos called out David Pecker’s National Enquirer on what looks like a blatant extortion racket.

It’s hard not to hope that Bezos uses his billions to shut down AMI and its sleazy shenanigans. And if there are disturbing parallels to Peter Thiel’s suit against Gawker, well, most of us will try not to think too hard about it. Given the hints Bezos dropped about Saudi Arabia and more rocks to be turned over in his startlingly candid post, the situation seems to involve more “complexifiers” and higher stakes – at least that’s what we hope.

It takes a lot for a billionaire tech mogul who put storied retailers out of business and squeezes billions in tax credits from state and local governments on the backs of part-time workers to be a champion, but that’s where we are. Bezos and Amazon may not be the heroes we need, but maybe they’re the ones we deserve.

5 Tips for Maintaining Media Relationships Under Pressure

The relationship between PR professionals and media is often seen as a necessary evil, especially by media. In my sector of tech PR, reporters rely on us to connect them with brands and keep them in the know about upcoming news. We in turn depend on them to generate the coverage that keep our clients happy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Every PR pro has experienced the stomach-churning moment when coverage goes bad or a piece doesn’t run in time for an embargo lift and we scramble to fix the situation before things fall apart.
While we sometimes have to deal with these scenarios in the moment, there are best practices for anticipating and avoiding disaster. Best of all, you can keep the relationship in good standing. Based on interviews with my favorite media contacts, here are four tips for doing just that.

Do your research

Most media criticisms of the way PR pros operate have to do with poorly targeted pitches, careless e-mail blasts and apathy or ignorance about a journalist’s beat. While a well-placed mail merge can result in some good “quick hits,” PR people are ultimately doing disservice to their reputation — and the agency’s — with a tactic that is short-term at best. On the flip side, an informed pitch to a handful of media targets can get the same results or better, without causing aggravation. It may seem like an extra effort, but in the long run, it saves both time and friction.

Learn the media process

PR people often don’t understand the journalist writing processes. And while it’s common for PR teams to be under the gun for securing announcement coverage, it’s unrealistic to expect a tech reporter to agree to coverage under tight timelines. The article workflow is intense. A writer must get familiar with the news, draft a piece, wait for copy editors to flag changes, make edits and then schedule it for publication. Sending a reporter a release at 5:00 PM with an embargo lift scheduled for 8:00 AM the following day — or moving an established embargo date up — only results in frustration and destroys the tenuous trust between both parties.

Never mislead media

One of the surest ways to destroy a reporter’s trust in PR is to mislead or grossly embellish what’s considered “news” for the sake of getting coverage. While honeypotting a reporter with the promise of exclusive or ‘top-secret’ information to mask a less interesting story may sound clever, it’ll only ensure that they never trust you again. Be as honest as possible about the content you’re pitching, even if it makes finding a home for news difficult. This will result in more karma points with media and will be an education in navigating soft story outreach overall. On the flip side, see this earlier post for a few rules to break for killer media relations.

Know how to wield an ‘exclusive’

PR pros should be wary of when and how they go about using the ‘exclusive’ for coverage – meaning, we offer a specific journalist first crack at a story. The exclusive works best for a large targeted story in a high-profile outlet or to make a softer piece of news more attractive to a relevant mid-tier or trade outlet. Regardless of the scenario, a surefire way to alienate a contact is to promise them the exclusive and retract it when a bigger outlet comes knocking. Even if it’s a second or third choice, you made the pact to give them the news. Taking it back will burn a bridge, and it’s never worth it. While it may seem like “no big deal” in the short term, if or when that contact moves to a better publication, your long-forgotten mistake will come back to haunt you twofold.

Tread lightly with product reviews

Once of the challenges we face in technology PR is a bad review for a client product or service. No matter the stakes, it’s never a good idea to attack a journalist over a negative review, unless it’s factually incorrect. Instead, understand who the reviewer is. Learn the ratio of favorable to unfavorable reviews for similar products and be aware of the pros and cons of the product itself. Product reviews are ultimately reflective of the reporter’s experience. Therefore, they’re paradoxically both subjective and objective. If the content of a review is factually wrong, then PR pros have a responsibility to sensibly and courteously rebut the errors and ask for a correction. If there’s nothing incorrect, badgering a reviewer to change their take simply to appease a client will only damage the reporter relationship and ensure that that reviewer won’t collaborate again.
These are just a handful of tips for better cultivating and nurturing relationships with tech journalists and those in other verticals that we’ve seen work best here at Crenshaw. See this earlier post for more ways to cultivate better PR/media relationships.

How To Pull Together A PR Event – Fast

In PR, we often create client events to generate brand visibility. It’s normally not very difficult. But, in January, we were asked to pull together a media event – in this case, a reception and panel discussion – for one client in less than two weeks. One reason for the rush was that the discussion was related to a television show featuring our client, so we wanted to make it happen when the series was still airing.

We sprang into action and pulled off the event with a marquee journalist as moderator, attended by over 35 journalists, and attracting over 100 attendees in a packed venue.
Now, we don’t recommend a 14-day lead time, but the discussion was a wild success, in part because we knew how to accelerate our typical event management template. Here are five best practices for planning an event on a tight turnaround.

Be ready to spend more

With little lead time, most venues and vendors – from caterers to AV suppliers – will charge premium rates. They know you’re desperate; they can smell it. The key is to anticipate this and make sure all stakeholders are aware that a quick-turn event will cost more than is typical. Establish that early on and ensure that you have the necessary cushion to pull it off.

Seek help from your network

This is a good rule of thumb for any undertaking, but when you have less than two weeks and every venue is booked, it pays to have a network for advice and connections. We turned to our digital networks to ask for recommendations. I posted on the NYC Tech PR Facebook group, for instance, which is a great resource for PR professionals and marketers. The venue we chose was ultimately recommended by a friend within that group.

Nail the moderator first

Every thought leadership discussion begins with a strong moderator. With a brand-name moderator or headliner on board, preferably from a relevant media outlet, panelists and attendees will follow. It helps to be aggressive in reaching out to moderators to determine who might be available or interested. In a smaller window, that might mean checking with multiple people in a given day. Whatever gets the job done, without spamming.

Pick up the phone

Also, there are times when emails aren’t enough – and this may be one of them. Rather than waiting for responses, initiate calls, then send email as a follow-up. You’ll need to be as persistent as possible without irritating the people whose help you need.

Simplify

With our January event, we streamlined our process and vendors to ensure we hit our launch date. That means cutting elements that you might have had otherwise. Forget a save-the-date email, for example; send the full invitations as soon as possible, even if some featured participants aren’t yet confirmed. We ended up ditching a dedicated photographer, opting to use high-quality stills from the videographer we brought on. We also paid extra to have the venue handle security and coat check. With enough time, you can stitch these elements together to lower costs, but with a tight schedule, there would have been too much complexity.

Invite as many relevant media as you can

Our event spoke to a number of media verticals: entertainment (because of the TV show), advertising/marketing, business, and more. So, we were fortunate to be able to invite a wide assortment of media, while keeping the list very targeted within each category. Of course many media already had prior engagements on the calendar, given the late notice, which is a common problem for any last-minute event. With that in mind, we decided to expand our media invite list. Everyone was still relevant, but we broadened our criteria for attendance (their beat could be more comprehensive, included freelancers and contributors, etc.). If you find yourself hosting an event on short notice, inviting more and more media is critical. Keep in mind the drop-off rule: expect a 70% drop-off from your RSVP list. Being extra cautious will help you deliver. See our earlier post for a deeper dive into executing a successful PR event.

PR Lessons From The Bubble

The 90s tech boom is back –  in a way. Last month I was at a fascinating discussion about that infamous period and its parallels to the cryptocurrency bubble of late. It was based on the National Geographic series Valley of the Boom, about some of the heroes and villains of the early days of the commercial internet, and it sent me on a trip in the PR agency Wayback Machine.

For those born after 1970, working at a tech PR agency during the dot-com era was nearly as wild as the start-up scene then, especially if it was your own agency and a startup, too. It was a time of easy money, market exuberance, and a drive toward the big score.

If you couldn’t be a successful VC or a techpreneur who cashed out at the right time, the next best thing was to have a PR or marketing agency when the dot-coms came knocking. They burned through lavish funding at a frightening rate with their eyes on an IPO. Part of the winning formula, of course, was a splashy PR campaign. It was an extraordinary period when my startup agency routinely turned down clients who had less than $30,000 a month to spend, scolded CEOs for a sloppy brand narrative, and spent far more time looking for staff than we did clients. Those things aren’t normal.

Like all bubbles, it burst in a cruel and messy way. My agency was lucky in that we had four years under our belt and several ongoing companies as clients –  digital extensions of media brands and ecommerce portals for established retailers. But it was an astonishing ride with plenty of lessons. Many may apply to today’s darlings — bitcoin, other cryptocurrency, even cannabis. Here are my takeaways.

Beware the easy money

It always comes with a downside. First, there are likely to be extraordinary expectations on the part of the client, and you’ll kill yourself to exceed them, risking other, more “normal” client relationships to satisfy an unreasonable (or unreasonably funded) one. Then, too, many booms bring a scarcity of talent. The very skills and experience you need to take advantage of the opportunities come at a premium, or in some cases, are just impossible to find. Which leads to my next learning.

Loyalty is underrated

But maybe it shouldn’t be. 2019 feels like a full-employment economy, and recruiting top people is challenging, but today’s environment is nothing compared to the labor market back then. Because a barely experienced tech PR Account Supervisor could command a large salary and impressive perqs at the obscenely funded dot-coms, agencies had to offer signing bonuses and crazy benefits to compete. And as every employer learns, if someone takes a job purely for the money, they’ll soon leave it for even more money. It was a nightmare of employee churn. The moral of the story is: take care of the staff who helped you get where you are.

Chances are you can’t pick the winners

I remember being obsessed with the cool kid of the day, Kozmo.com. We pursued it but were never successful. It sounds nutty, but Kozmo’s business model was free delivery of small items within an hour of purchase, mostly by bicycle messenger. Don’t laugh – it had partnership deals with Amazon and Starbucks, and it raised $250 million. Yet Kozmo was out of business three years after it launched. If we’d won it, my agency would have probably been left with a fractured reputation and a stack of unpaid bills.

The point is, if Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures couldn’t choose the winners, how could I?  Today we make decisions based on how successful we can be in reaching a client’s goals, rather than grabbing at the next trophy. If all else fails, at least we’ll have a solid case history.

Don’t buy the hype, and don’t spread it

My friend Bob Pickard underscores this in an interview about the booming cannabis market, which may be another analogy to the dot-com frenzy. Overpromising client results, or, worse, misrepresenting claims to media, can result in disaffected clients and ruined reputations. In some cases there may be legal jeopardy. At a road show for a dot-com entrepreneur who also happened to be a friend, a board member pulled me aside and warned me not to speak on the record for the company. It seemed he didn’t fully trust the founder’s numbers.  Yikes. You can sell “vaporware” once, but there’s no fallback after that.

Gravity

It’s real. What goes up will eventually come back to earth. It isn’t a PR learning, of course, but a market and business fundamental. Like any boom, you’ll need to take advantage of the opportunities while preparing for the next down cycle. That means not stopping the marketing and SEO machine, maintaining a healthy client mix without too much concentration in one area, and even turning down business that you just can’t handle.

8 Media Interview Mistakes To Avoid

In the PR agency world, after weeks of fine-tuning messaging, crafting stories and pitching reporters, there’s no better feeling than landing a top media interview for a client. It signals that the overall public relations strategy is on the right track. Most importantly, of course, a media interview will lead to positive coverage – assuming it goes well.
Nailing the interview, however, isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to technology PR opportunities. Even with advance preparation, executives can fumble or leave opportunities on the table. With that in mind, here are eight seemingly small media interview mistakes every spokesperson should avoid, regardless of whether the interview is in person or over the phone.

Showing up late

Here I’m not talking about live television segments, which obviously must happen on time and for which we routinely build in a generous cushion. But for any type of interview, being punctual conveys respect and sets the tone for the conversation. Still, I’ve seen several executives arrive more than a few minutes late to a media sit-down. It’s also easy to run a few minutes late for a phone interview, but that’s even worse, because a phoner is typically squeezed into the journalist’s daily schedule, and he may not have decided whether to do a story. Lateness can annoy the journalist, and in general, it pays to get as much time as possible with a key media contact. The more time, the better the chance of a story, particularly in situations where technical details must be highlighted.

Being unprepared   

Every PR person has been on an interview where the client calls the reporter by the wrong name or confuses their publication with another one. It’s cringeworthy – and easily prevented. In advance of an interview, it’s critical for clients to read or even study the briefing materials their PR team has prepared. A briefing document includes basic information about a journalist as well as deeper insights on their point of view, relevant stories, and more. It ensures clients are prepared and don’t make unforced errors. Outside of a formal media training, every good PR agency team will take an experienced spokesperson through anticipated questions to prepare him for the conversation. It simply takes that extra time commitment.

Referring to other media interviews

For some reason, many executives will tell a reporter that they’re seeing “lots of interest” from the media about a story, or that they’re “speaking to the media to get the story out.” Some will even name the outlets where they’ve had interviews. None of this is helpful. For any media interview, it’s important to treat the interviewer like they’re the only one in the world hearing that perspective. If they feel like the story is being covered by other outlets or that it’s being shopped around, they may choose to take a pass on the story.

Steamrolling the interviewer   

Ideally, an interview should be a back-and-forth, with participation from both sides. Sometimes a journalist’s interview style might be more passive. Yet it’s better for the executive to pause as he or she shares information, particularly when it comes to technology stories. This allows the journalist to absorb the spokesperson’s point of view and areas of expertise and interject questions. I sometimes recommend that the executive pause and ask the interviewer if what they’ve just outlined is clear. That way, they have more cues about how well the journalist if following the conversation and how compelling it is to him.

Having a passive PR host

This one may be controversial, but my clients will tell you that I frequently jump in during interviews. I’ll chime in to communicate a key message or theme, to clarify a point, or to share background. A media interview’s PR host – and every interview should have a PR host, if possible – should not necessarily be a passive participant during an interview. They should be looking for opportunities to support the client where appropriate. Too many PR pros simply “listen in” but fail to direct the conversation. In my view, that helps no one.

“You can email me”

This is another point where professional communicators can disagree, but I discourage direct contact between media and client spokespersons. By the end of an interview, a client may invite the interviewer to email them, but this is risky. It’s the PR team who should be the point of contact for any follow-ups. PR professionals serve several functions, but one of the most important is as “buffer” between client and journalist. If a journalist has a tough question, why should they be able to reach out to an executive directly? I see our role as ensuring that our client addresses the question appropriately, or can avoid it if that’s recommended.

Vomiting marketing jargon.

A media interview is an opportunity for a journalist to get substantive information to support a story. While it’s critical to weave in key themes and messages, speaking like a marketing robot that regurgitates jargon from a messaging document or website will turn off the interviewer. Clients should speak naturally and show their expertise about the topic at hand. This is easier for some than for others, but it’s always possible with advance preparation.

“Is there anything else I should know?”

At the end of every interview, the reporter will ask, “Is there anything else I should know?” While some view this as a formality, for the interviewee, it’s really an opportunity to summarize key points, take stock of what was said and to plug any gaps from the conversation. Too many clients will respond to the “is there anything else” question with, “Nope, that’s it.” Take 30 seconds to end the call as effectively as possible.
These are just a few common media interview missteps or lost opportunities we’ve seen. What are others interviewees should avoid?