Publishers “Rethink Revenue” At Thought Leadership Panel

Wednesday night in Chelsea, TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha led a spirited discussion on the how digital publishers can look beyond advertisers to increase revenue. The topic “Rethinking Revenue: How Can Digital Publishers Make More Money” could not have been more relevant for the audience of digital publishers and panel members, all of whom have made unlocking new revenue streams with data a priority.

Lotame, the world’s largest data management platform, hosted the discussion, and  CEO Andy Monfried offered a perspective into data’s versatile role in the future of publishing, reminding the sold-out audience that there’s a big difference between monetization and advertising.

The panel included: Anthony Ha (@anthonyha) | Senior Writer, TechCrunch., David Spiegel (@davidzspiegel) | Head of Sales, New York Media. Charles Wolrich (@Hearst) | GM, Data Studio & Digital Ad Tech, Hearst Magazines, Finola Austin (@alonif01) | Director of Brand Strategy, Refinery29, Andy Monfried (@andymonfried) | Founder & CEO, Lotame.

 

 

5 Ways To Ensure A Worthwhile Analyst Meeting

In today’s B2B PR, good analyst relations (AR) are essential. Technology analysts at firms like Gartner, Forrester and IDC can meaningfully shape the overall direction of a category and directly impact a B2B technology provider’s business. This can occur in two ways.

First, most analyst firms publish in-depth research that potential clients and existing customers buy on an ongoing basis. These reports are meant to guide technology decision makers on the best vendors, or at least the most relevant ones.

The most famous examples are Gartner’s Magic Quadrants and the Forrester Wave. Companies pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to have access to analyst reports, so vendors that are well positioned in the the reports benefit.

The second way analysts affect a category or industry is more informal. Analysts are constantly being tapped as thought leaders by media for stories, as expert panelists and speakers by event coordinators, and more. They have a platform to share their opinions and perspectives on who matters in a space.

This is why AR, and building bonds with relevant analysts, can help a business stay top-of-mind and be referenced. A mention by an analyst confers immediate third-party credibility for a solution by someone with real authority in the industry.

But how do B2B tech companies build long-term relationships with industry analysts? Many have paid relationships, of course. Any analyst company is more likely to listen to a client company, especially one in a hot category. But it is possible to get their attention without paying an analyst company? Ultimately, it all starts with an analyst meeting, and in maximizing the opportunity once secured. I’ve sat in on hundreds of analyst meetings over the last seven years. Here’s what I recommend.

Bring your best deck

Every analyst meeting, unless otherwise directed, should start with a cogent presentation that outlines a company’s mission statement, positioning and differentiators, core features, pricing, clients, use cases, and scale. These presentations should be more in-depth than a typical media overview, of course, given analysts’ level of expertise. And they should be less focused on marketing jargon — analysts can see right through that — and more focused on the technology. The overview should last roughly 10-15 minutes.

Bring your best demo

After B2B tech companies offer up an overview of their platform, it’s important to walk through and demo it. Again, this demo differs from a media demo, which is generally very top-level, if provided at all. Instead, an analyst demo should be more comprehensive and in the weeds, calling out any bells and whistles competitors don’t have. The demo should be the centerpiece of the briefing and take up the majority of the time. Given its importance, it’s critical to bring a top demo provider. If this means passing the baton from a CEO or C-suite exec to a product manager, then so be it. Whoever will deliver the best experience should be the demo point person.

Ask them what they think

Analyst meetings are an excellent opportunity for a software company to gather valuable feedback on company positioning, products and features, pricing, and more. Too many B2B technology companies will treat an analyst briefing as an opportunity to steamroll an analyst with an information dump. I find that the best meetings, however, are more conversational. Pausing to ask an analyst for their opinion on something leads to a more engaging dialogue, and will likely elicit candid insights and feedback that can shape your market strategy. This takes on even more importance if you’re not a paying Gartner or Forrester customer, since you have limited access to the analysts.

Become a valuable resource

Just as an analyst can share their opinions on your company’s positioning, a rising business can set itself up as a valuable information resource for the analyst. Don’t be afraid to share insights into current or future industry trends relevant to the analyst’s coverage. They appreciate an informed perspective from the front lines on the space and competitive landscape. This will show that you care about the demands of their job – and that your company is a thought leader. If you can become a reliable resource, your company and solution will resonate that much more with the analyst moving forward.

Make sure PR is in touch

Once a meeting has wrapped, PR teams should incorporate the analyst into their outreach plans. This means pinging them about significant platform updates, new product launches, customer wins, and more. This will allow a constant drumbeat and ongoing communications between formal briefings or meetings. (As with media, outreach must be tailored and personalized.) A failure to nurture these relationships can result in your outstanding solution not getting the visibility and market share it deserves.
AR is a key piece of any B2B technology PR or marketing program. Cultivating relationships with analysts can move the needle for your business and brand and elevate your positioning in the marketplace. These tips can help you maximize the value of an analyst meeting and ensure ROI. Are there any tips I’m missing? Let me know on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

PR Tactics To Show Company Values

PR is an essential business function for imparting a company’s values and beliefs to the public. Because earned media confers credibility, it can be decidedly more powerful than marketing and advertising. With the public too cynical to buy into ads trumpeting a company’s inherent beliefs, public relations offers that all-important third-party acclaim. If a young company has something special in its DNA like a unique workplace culture, a mission to radically change the industry, or bold opinions on social issues, then communicating these values can be a powerful differentiator.
Here are five PR tactics to get the word out on an organization’s values.

Partners with the same values

Hitching the wagon to a like-minded organization or influencer can go a long way in communicating values. If a tech company only uses only renewable energy, then it might partner with an environmental group for an issues awareness campaign about the environmental impact of high-tech products. Just as people’s values are often judged by the friends they keep, a company’s associations help inform its public image. Plus, any messaging about the campaign receives wider amplification, since both partners communicate on their owned and shared channels. For example, Patagonia’s partnership with famous climber Tommy Caldwell (“rock climbing ambassador”) reinforces both parties’ values. See this earlier post for more on better PR with third-party partnerships.

Take the stage

Speaking engagements are an effective way to shape executive thought leadership. If a company has developed a unique method for recruiting a diverse workforce, for example, its spokespeople can earn speaking sessions at diversity and inclusion, workplace culture, and HR industry conferences. By consistently educating others the company is putting its values of inclusion on display while boosting brand visibility in a strategic way. Winning unpaid speaking engagements at industry events carries added prestige over sponsored, so they can be worth the extra effort. See this post for more on winning these prime speaking engagements.

Create your own event

By creating its own conference or other media event, a company can make an even more emphatic statement of its values and mission. Crenshaw client Bizzabo, a leading event software company, wanted to take action after research confirmed that tech events overwhelming feature male speakers and attendees to the tune of 70% and 80% respectively. To take action and amplify its push for gender diversity, it created its own women’s leadership half-day conference called Empower, held on International Women’s Day. It’s precisely the type of commitment that could grow into a recognized element of a company’s reputation as an advocate for gender diversity in tech.

Executive content

When it comes to pitching executive bylines to the media, tech companies naturally tend to focus on topics related to its space and solutions. However, PR teams shouldn’t forget to join conversations related to industry and social issues when relevant. If the executive has a strong or contrarian point of view on topics of evergreen interest, then she should write blog entries, LinkedIn posts, and pitch bylines to key outlets. Of course, the company has to walk the walk before the media will listen to its talk. One of our clients found a powerful platform after it decided to buy back the business from the venture capital company that funded it. It was only after it went through with the transaction that it had the credibility to promote corporate values like independence and reasonable growth (as opposed to VC-cash-fueled hypergrowth.) As with all PR tactics, conversations supported by substance and/or data have a better chance of gaining coverage. See this post for tips on writing stellar bylines.

Corporate activism

A bolder way to communicate a company’s value system is through reactive commentary on trending social or political issues. If done well and backed by authentic action, the executive can exert influence while the brand becomes synonymous with a distinct set of beliefs. See this post for more on CEOs embracing corporate activism.
Not all companies focus on beliefs or have a point of view that transcends business. But if a business does have a unique ethos, it should use PR to get the word out. By consistently communicating a coherent set of values through various PR tactics, an organization will gain reputational capital for something substantive that can separate itself from the herd.

What Business People Should Know About PR

Public relations is hot. Businesses from tech startups to nonprofits have come to recognize the value of a strategic PR campaign executed by a talented team. But PR’s popularity has given rise to some misconceptions. Here’s what every business person, from marketers to CEOs, should know about public relations.

It can’t replace marketing

Occasionally a tech startup or small brand will tell us that the company has committed most or all of its marketing budget to public relations. That vote of confidence is great, but in most cases a PR campaign is a poor substitute for a marketing plan, and it’s not typically designed to drive demand. With some exceptions, public relations is best used to build visibility and shape reputation over time. It doesn’t compare to paid advertising when it comes to frequency of message, and it will never offer the type of control that paid content will. But a good PR program will support a brand marketing campaign in a variety of ways, like educating prospective customers and boosting a brand message.

But it’s a lot closer to marketing than it used to be

The social media explosion has greatly expanded the toolbox of tactics comprised in a PR campaign. Whereas PR used to be considered “below the line” within a marketing budget and was loosely (and inaccurately) defined as “coverage you don’t pay for” in contrast to paid advertising, there’s now a significant gray area between PR and marketing. What we call PR can include paid influencer marketing, content or inbound marketing, social content, and other varieties of paid creative services.

Today’s PR is specialized

Like other disciplines, public relations and grown and changed over the years. Most consultants or agencies operate individual profit centers that may be organized by sector, from food to fashion to financial services. There are also deep specialist expertise by PR function. Some individuals and agencies concentrate strictly on reputation management, litigation PR, or crisis management. Others are more publicity oriented, and still others are focused in that gray area between earned and paid media. Any business seeking PR services for the first time should be aware of both vertical and horizontal specialist models and the ways in which they may fit their needs.

It’s not a quick fix

Good PR takes time. For many companies the most visible manifestation of the work is the earned media placement — an article, interview, or segment that features their brand. But like any kind of marketing content, the brand stories are the culmination of weeks or even months of work. They’re typically preceded by category and brand research and a differentiated positioning to set up the story. Media messages and various materials are needed for an all-out media outreach. Most importantly, each contact is part of a plant to develop and spur momentum. They all work together.

It’s a two-way street

At its essence, PR is about telling a brand story, but a good team should also serve as a source of feedback, intelligence, and insight on what target audiences are thinking and saying. Business people who aren’t using PR tools and tactics to better understand customer, influencers, employees, or partners are probably not maximizing their investment. A top PR program should improve relationships with key audiences, but not by merely broadcasting through media. It can and should work in both directions.

Earned media is the beginning, not the end

Most companies still think of publicity, or earned media, as a successful outcome of a PR campaign, but the coverage is often the beginning. The way we consumer news and other content has changed drastically, so successful promotion of earned media is essential to success. A good PR team will urge clients to promote their coverage on social media, include it in sales presentations and proposals, share it with stakeholders in company communications, add it to the website press center, and merchandise it to get more media coverage, of course.

But PR is still about the story

The tools and platforms have changed and grown more sophisticated (and in some cases, data-driven), but the heart of a good PR program is  the story. We have a wealth of ways to shape a brand narrative, from influencer videos to high-level opinion content. But what hasn’t changed is the importance of story and its power to grab someone’s attention, engage them, and influence their attitude or behavior.

Press Releases Aren’t Dead — But Do You Need One?

No, press releases aren’t dead. Despite what many PR pros say, the news release is still a reliable tool for sharing information with media. In fact, when I share information without a press release, the first question many reporters ask is, “Do you have a press release I can look at?”
So the press release is here to stay. But do you need a press release for your announcement? What announcements work best? And how do you write an effective press release? Let’s take a closer look.

What is a press release

A press release is a formal document from an organization or brand that communicates “newsworthy” information. What qualifies as newsworthy can mean different things to different people. But, in most cases, a press release is used to announce things like:

  • A new product
  • A new hire
  • A new company milestone
  • A new partnership, etc.

Now, not every new partnership or milestone might be worthy of a standalone press release. But this gives you a good overview of when to potentially develop one.

Do you need a press release?

How do you determine, from your list of product and partner news, whether or not you need a press release? For me, there are six questions I keep in mind — and ask my clients to keep in mind — when considering a release:

  1. What’s your story?
  2. What’s the business impact of the story?
  3. What’s the news? (What’s news that will get someone to write about the story?)
  4. What assets do you have to tell this story? (Clients, product, personnel, data, etc.)
  5. Who’s the target for your release?
  6. What are your goals for the release?

Many clients tell me they want to put a press release out about X or Y. But when we start working through these questions together, it quickly becomes clear that the announcement isn’t press-release-worthy. Perhaps the story is soft or there are no assets yet.
With that in mind, feel free to download our own press release background document here. We provide this to clients to share with their internal teams. It helps them decide whether or not a press release makes sense for a given announcement.

How to write a press release

There is no exact formula or format for a release. But you can check out this Forbes piece for guidance or take a look at these press release templates from HubSpot. They can give you the basics.
More broadly, here are best practices that I keep in mind when writing a release:
Lead with your news — Your headline and subhead are critical. No one will read your release if you don’t start with immediate impact. Don’t save the best parts. Forcefully lean into your story.
Keep it tight — Press releases are often overlong. Brands pack them with extraneous messaging and information. But it’s best to keep releases hyper-focused on your news and why it matters. Anything else is just filler.
Steer clear of jargon — A press release speaks to a number of audiences. Current clients, prospects, media, analysts, influencers, and employees. Relying on too much company or industry jargon can limit opportunities across these groups.
Be consistent — Brand messaging shouldn’t vary from release to release. Some brands will tweak and tinker with their descriptor or boilerplate over and over again. This can hurt your SEO and confuse readers who regularly follow the company.

Where to distribute a release

There are two primary points of distribution for a press release. First is your own website or blog, where you can drive traffic through paid advertising, email newsletter or social media.
Another option is a newswire service. A newswire distribution service has paid relationships with hundreds or thousands of news websites. Examples include Cision’s PR Newswire, GlobeNewswire and PRWeb. Those relationships allow you to immediately scale a release and drive traffic to it through sheer volume. Newswire distributions also end up being discoverable in Google News searches, which amplifies your news. The biggest benefit of a newswire service is the SEO value.
There is a debate over whether or not paid newswire distribution is worth it today, especially as costs increase. After all, most media won’t find your press release through a newswire distribution but through one-to-one outreach. My recommendation is to evaluate newswire distribution on a case-by-case basis. If it’s a “big” announcement, it’s likely worth the spend. If it’s a smaller one, or if you make multiple announcements in a single month, using owned media on your company site or blog is probably a better use of your PR budget.

When Your PR Problem Isn’t About PR

For PR professionals, it’s interesting when a particular company or public figure is said to have a “PR problem.” Of course the term is used as shorthand, but it can signal that brand-watchers are misdiagnosing what’s wrong. “Bad PR” generally means negative media coverage, but the coverage is often a symptom rather than the problem. You can’t fix the situation until you understand what’s causing it.

Take the case of outgoing White House Communications Director Bill Shine. Shine announced his resignation last week, and though he will reportedly join the Trump 2020 campaign, the shift was seen as a soft landing for the former Fox executive. Shine was ousted because his boss, the president, isn’t happy about the bad press he’s received since Shine joined the White House operation eight months ago.

As one insider quipped to Jane Mayer in her deeply reported New Yorker article about Trump’s relationship with Fox News, “Trump thought he was getting Roger Ailes but instead he got Roger Ailes’s gofer.”

Ouch. That assessment may be harsh, but the evidence suggests the president’s biggest problem isn’t his press operation. The Trump White House has had five communications directors in only two years; it’s like a client that keeps churning through PR agencies in search of the perfect fit. You don’t have to be an expert to see that the perfect fit will never arrive.

When in doubt, blame the PR guy

The blame-the-PR-guy reflex isn’t limited to the White House. Facebook is a good example of a company beset with so-called PR problems that aren’t just about public perception, but some distinct realities, as well as a failure to respond appropriately by the company itself. At the recent Morgan Stanley conference COO Sheryl Sandberg seemed to frame its problems as a matter of public relations. “We need to tell our story better,” she’s quoted as saying. “And so we’re working hard to prevent the bad, but also to let the good stories be told.” Maybe Sandberg isn’t blaming her comms staff in particular, but she certainly isn’t acknowledging the reality. That’s the first and most important step in turning around public perception.

Most PR professionals have experienced the client who’s in denial about his problems, and it’s one of the most self-defeating situations we encounter. Not all are punitive, like the CEO who instantly axes the PR team over an unflattering interview. But those who hide the truth from their communications staff – and themselves — are the most insidious. PR pros aren’t magicians, and denial is a dangerous state for a chief executive or public personality.

Clients deserve the truth, even if they can’t handle it

My agency once won a digital reputation assignment from a client that suffered from terrible online reviews, among other challenges. It didn’t take much research to learn that its customers were right to be angry. Our PR proposal made it clear that if the company didn’t change its practices, our work would be in vain. I was surprised when the client we told us why we won the engagement against three larger digital marketing agencies who promised better results through SEO tricks. “You were the only one who told the truth,” he said — a pretty stunning comment, given the flagrancy of the problem. The relationship was successful because it was based on a realistic assessment of the situation, even if the client’s practices didn’t change as much as we hoped.

A company in denial of its unforced errors, on the other hand, is impossible to help. There are many situations that can be improved by a strategic PR and reputation campaign. Low visibility; an outdated perception; a competitive challenge; a public mistake that’s acknowledged and corrected — the list is very long. But the client who thinks the PR guy can fix anything he breaks, a la Olivia Pope, is like an alcoholic who says he’ll stop drinking tomorrow. Unless he really wants to change, it will never happen. “Good PR” isn’t just the result of a skilled communications officer’s work or a PR consultant’s media jujitsu. In part it grows out of behavior that’s fair and ethical, and until and unless that prevails, your “PR” probably won’t improve.

3 Rules For “Off the Record” Conversations

An “off-the-record” conversation with a journalist can sound mysterious or complex, but in PR it’s a very effective tool. Whether you’re providing candid background about a frustrating trend in your industry or trying to blunt the impact of a coming story about your organization, off-the-record interactions with reporters can deliver benefit for your brand, even though the impact may be indirect.

Off-the-record chats aren’t limited to politics or crisis management, although we often hear about them in that context. The New York Times posted a primer on the term after President Trump famously spoke about an off-the-record meeting he had with publisher A.G. Sulzburger, thus breaking the agreement. Beyond politics, however, such agreements can be useful for business and technology PR and storytelling. Yet as the Trump incident illustrates, the term is sometimes misunderstood, or it’s confused with other journalistic terms of art like “on background” or “deep background.” Even when the rules are clear, it can backfire when undertaken by the wrong people.

For those who need a refresher on what “off the record” means, check out Mashable’s overview. As they put it, when a conversation is off the record, “the understanding is that she or he will not only not quote you, but not even paraphrase what you’re saying. There will be no record, and no mention of this information anywhere.”

So, if the information can’t be used, why bother? Because off-the-record conversations can impart valuable knowledge that may guide a journalist in subsequent research. It can also help to shape future coverage in meaningful ways. But the reporter must refer to other sources and proof points. Think of it as pointing the journalist in the right direction and offering context for future inquiries.

With that in mind, here are three rules to keep in mind when having off the record conversations in 2019.

Get it in writing
Keep in mind, an off-the-record agreement is not legally binding. Rather, in the news world it’s a culturally accepted method of sourcing information. Reporters generally honor off-the-record agreements because they want to continue being trusted by sources to share worthwhile news and background. It’s also widely accepted practice among journalists and frowned upon in media organizations to burn sources.

With that said, mistakes can happen. Perhaps a journalist you spoke to on the phone recalled the conversation differently, or for some reason is backpedaling on what you believe was an agreed upon off-the-record exchange. This is why it’s smart to get the “agreement” in writing over email (“Can we chat off the record?”) in advance of any conversation so that you can refer to it later, if need be. And even after an exchange of emails, it’s best to reconfirm the off-the-record guidelines before speaking on the phone or in person. Needless to say, if you or a client speak publicly about the meeting, the agreement changes and the discussion becomes fair game.

Don’t go overboard
An off-the-record conversation is an opportunity for you to share essential information. It’s not an excuse to speak endlessly about every opinion or grudge because you’ve been granted immunity. Do not go overboard when engaging media off the record. Otherwise, you risk having the journalist go down the wrong path.

Consider the nuance here. Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade has said: “A single ‘off the record’ quote is also qualitatively different from an ‘unattributable background briefing’, which usually involves a lengthy and considered statement by a source to a trusted journalist.” Length matters, and when sources provide too much information, things get fuzzy.

For example, a client might feel compelled to badmouth a competitor in an off -the-record conversation. This can backfire, with the media contact going to the competitor with seemingly independent questions that provoke a similar negative response. The result is a back-and-forth in which you and/or your organization is badmouthed. It’s a vicious cycle with no winners except for the reporter who will pick the best angle to run with later. (There is no loyalty here.) My advice: steer clear of hollow bloviating. When it’s off the record, get in and get out, and stick to the issue at hand.

Trust your PR team
The biggest mistake a brand makes when an executive wants to have an off-the-record conversation is that they go over their PR team’s head. Every PR person has seen this happen at some point. For whatever reason, the exec takes it upon his or herself to negotiate an off-the-record agreement and conversation with a contact rather than allowing the PR to do it. And more often than not, it fails.

Collectively, PR teams have negotiated hundreds of these types of conversations. Remember — an off-the-record dialogue is not a simple transaction. It’s a delicate negotiation that requires experience to understand the nuances that deliver success. Your PR team has shared experience that is absolutely critical to ensuring the best outcomes for your brand. (Assuming you have the appropriate PR team, that is.)
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Going off the record is an invaluable strategy. But its execution can be complicated and involves navigating multiple sets of individual (reporter-specific) and cultural (industry) norms. What do you think about the practice? What tips have worked for you? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @chrisharihar.