PR Tips On Industry Awards For B2B Tech Companies

As high-growth tech companies expand their public relations efforts, they often want the recognition that comes with industry accolades. But for the uninitiated, the vast awards ecosystem within different industries can be a mysterious black box. To help PR/marketing execs succeed in earning awards, here are a few fundamentals and insider tips to know. Let’s use a variation on journalism’s 5Ws to share insights.

Why should I enter for awards?

Like analyst reviews, industry award wins can serve as evidence of the worth of a tech solution or growth record for an organization. Product awards confer invaluable third-party endorsements because they feature a real-world case study of the solution’s use in the field. When a company shows how a known brand like Home Depot or Mercedes has achieved business objectives using a software solution, for example, it gains instant credibility.

B2B buyers looking for the best SaaS solution, for example, will review all collateral and communications, including analyst reviews, online explainer videos, customer reviews, case studies, white papers, etc. Awards wins can be another credible weapon to keep a company’s product or solution in the highest consideration set. Industry award wins are proof points for investors, new business, and even talent acquisition.

Which awards should I enter?

Awards do not stop at product solutions. A B2B tech company should submit for in categories wherever their excellence lies. In this current environment of competition for tech talent acquisition, many clients are prioritizing entering for recognition of their company culture as in AdAge Best Places to Work. Those looking to attract more diverse talent (and who isn’t?) can show an inclusive and progressive environment through awards in the DEI and women in technology spaces. Tech providers can demonstrate their excellent customer success by earning awards for client service. Our clients Chili Piper and Innovid planted their flags as Inc. Magazine’s Best WorkPlaces 2021 – earning visibility for job seekers who can now afford to be selective about where to grow their careers.

Who should I enter?

Individual awards are great morale builders, and they can showcase a company’s diversity and inclusion. Individual recognition for thought leadership is also an excellent way to build visibility for executives looking for a higher profile. Most award programs have individual categories like the CEO of the Year or Rising Star for earlier career superstars. At Crenshaw, we enjoy helping our amazing female adtech executive clients win recognition in awards like Cynopsis Top Women in Media, Advertising Week Future is Female, Campaign US Female Frontier Awards. Awards like these help showcase a company’s dedication to change the gender imbalance in the technology industries. Our client LiveIntent’s CMO Kerel Cooper took home Tech Diversity Advocate of the Year in the Campaign Tech Awards 2021 – which supported his personal brand as well as the company’s forward-thinking reputation.

Where should I look to find the good award targets? 

First there’s the matter of geography. A U.S. company should obviously enter awards from inside the country only – except some programs are global, so the decision hinges on whether client work is strong enough to compete around the world. Awards produced by U.S. based pubs Digiday and AdExchanger are actually global . By the same token, U.K. based pubs like The Drum and Campaign are also open to companies and campaigns around the world. Entrants should definitely read the fine print in the rules/guidelines before entering . Sometimes, a program is looking strictly for companies operating in certain regions. There is also the question of which award programs are tier 1 and which are less legitimate money-generators. At Crenshaw, we tend to favor the awards produced by relevant tech media outlets like those mentioned above – since there’s a built-in media opportunity. An award program not associated with a media outlet could still be worthwhile; but beware of awards that seem to have a thousand categories and a stout entry fee. The ones where everybody wins don’t hold much legitimate PR value.

How do go about entering awards?

Industry awards take real time and effort. Submission forms range from 450 to 1500 words. If you have a PR agency, definitely get them to do it! The key to all tech industry product awards is a fully realized case study narrative — and here’s the tough part – approved for use by the client. Some Customer Success/Sales departments are better than others at convincing clients to allow their brand name to be used in award case studies and in the media. Framed correctly, a tech vendor can persuade a brand client of the PR benefits of prestigious award recognition. The right category can make a difference. If you enter a category such as ‘most innovative use of technology’, a brand takes top billing and looks like a leader while the tech solution can also bask in the glow. For info on what makes up a great case study, see my earlier post.

When should I enter awards?

At Crenshaw, our conferences and awards department flags award opportunities as they come up, based on submission deadlines. Media outlets like the Drum and Digiday have published award calendars similar to ed-cals for their numerous programs that run through the year. Over a period of a couple of years, an aggressive B2B company can rack up enough wins to populate an awards page on their website, or a crawl across the bottom of its home page, dazzling business buyers with a litany of laurels trumpeting their solution or services, workplace culture, or individual executives.

For info on how to write a winning award submission, see this earlier post. Now let’s get that trophy case filled with hardware!

Announcement From Our Ad Tech Team

Crenshaw Communications Grows Ad Tech PR Team

Caroline Yodice named Director of Ad Tech to support expanding client roster

New York, NY, October 14, 2021 — Crenshaw Communications, a leading New York-based public relations agency specializing in PR for B2B and SaaS technology brands, today announced key personnel moves in support of its growing ad tech PR unit.

Caroline Yodice has been named Director of Ad Tech, reporting to Partner Chris Harihar. She was previously a Senior Account Supervisor. 

“As a category, ad tech has exploded over the past few years,” observed Chris Harihar. “At Crenshaw Communications, we have a history of successfully supporting a range of ad tech brands, from high-growth startups to larger public companies. Caroline’s expertise and experience in this space are matched only by her enthusiasm for it. She’s already killing it as Director of Ad Tech.” 

Caroline Yodice added, “There’s not a more exciting industry right now than ad tech. I’m delighted to lead our team and eager to support the expansion of our account roster and status as the top ad tech PR agency in the US.”

Additionally, Hannah Kasoff has joined the agency’s ad tech group. Hannah was most recently Associate Marketing Manager at Mediaocean, where she managed demand generation efforts for the US. 

Crenshaw Communications has also recently added new clients, including Connatix, the next-generation video technology company for publishers, and BrandTotal, a leading social competitive intelligence and brand analytics platform. Longstanding clients include Yahoo, DoubleVerify, Innovid, Lotame, and LiveIntent. 

For more information about Crenshaw Communications and how it can support ad tech brands and businesses, contact Chris Harihar at chris@crenshawcomm.com

About Crenshaw Communications

Crenshaw Communications is a New York PR and content agency specializing in B2B public relations for high-growth technology companies. Whether the goal is to launch a new product, drive web traffic, or create a leadership brand position, Crenshaw extends PR tools and tactics beyond the limits of the traditional to create both earned coverage and word-of-mouth in order to build brands.

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Can Ethical PRs Represent Unethical Clients?

The public relations business is plagued with bad cultural stereotypes (see: Flacks) as well as real-life examples of specialists who lie or deceive. Sure, every occupation has its bad apples. Ironically, however, image control for PR is particularly challenging. For one thing, we answer to many parties, from clients and media to shareholders and stakeholders. And lately the stakes, as well as the potential penalties for unethical behavior, are rising.  That’s a good thing.

The consequences can be steep

In the wake of the Pandora papers tax fraud scandal, legislators are now proposing to penalize law firms, accounting firms and even PR agencies who fail to vet criminal clients. The so-called “enablers,” including PR firms, had previously been excluded from due diligence rules. Should the bipartisan proposal become law, it should give large multinational agencies pause.

At the same time, there’s a bigger incentive for communicators to do the right thing. Negative baggage has a cost, too. Just look at the pressure on the comms team at Facebook, which has come to epitomize the struggle to do ethical work at a company that is acting in bad faith. Whistleblower Frances Haugen has managed to break through where previous Facebook critics have not. Her success is in part due to her use of Facebook’s own data about the damage its incentives have done. Haugen has also benefited from good timing. Facebook has been able to explain away past misdeeds with PR apologies, but the new allegations will likely stick. Although knowledgeable people disagree about what the consequences should be, the need to rein in Facebook is one of the very few areas of bipartisan agreement in Congress.

When good PR happens to bad people

What does this mean for the PR community? It all raises the question: how can a PR professional ethically represent an unethical, or merely controversial, company or individual? Should strategic PR advice be used to explain or defend a reprehensible action? What about repeated actions? The answers aren’t as obvious as they seem.

In a new textbook Public Relations Ethics: The Real-World Guide, Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy take a refreshingly real-world approach to ethics in our business. A central case study is the story of Bell Pottinger, in which the firm’s expulsion from the Public Relations and Communications Association for ethical breaches was taken by some as proof that the industry code had real impact.

But the authors acknowledge that even the clear-cut case of Bell Pottinger’s collapse was complicated. After all, it was known as “the PR firm for despots and rogues” for years. Its late founder openly flouted industry conventions and most of Bell Pottinger’s allies only rejected the firm after scandal hit. That speaks to the hypocrisy in our industry as well as others — success can breed a kind of immunity to the rules. Change tends to happen slowly, then all at once, as we saw in the #metoo movement.

The good news is that PRSA’s ethical guidelines are widely published, taught, and understood by those working in PR and communications. Yet even when the rules are clear – don’t lie, don’t engage in dubious tactics like astro-turfing, and don’t represent dictators, etc. — real-world situations are rarely as black-and-white.

Principled PR is a matter of good faith

Ethics training for future PR professionals is critical, and textbooks like the Morris Goldsworthy help. But ethical behavior starts with the individual. In our business, the ethical choice may not always be simple or clear, but intentions should matter.

The right choice isn’t just about about which clients we represent, but about what we do in representing them. As PRSA tells us in a useful post titled “Whitewashing Despots,” if the client tells the truth and “supports and ensures the free flow of accurate and unprejudiced information,” it can actually be an ethical decision to represent them. The key is to represent the public interest, and to do so in good faith. Until you can’t.

We’ve all known practitioners who choose to work for organizations with ethical challenges, from Philip Morris to Facebook. Those comms executives often say they’re trying to work for change from within. Sometimes they are. And sometimes, like Frances Haugen, after trying in good faith, they recognize when change from within is impossible.

What Frances Haugen did will make it easier for future whistleblowers. But her example is also a good one for professional communicators. Influence is powerful. Sometimes it can work from within. But if that fails, different action is needed, and that’s where a true ethical compass kicks in.

PR Tips For Navigating Interview Roadblocks

For PR specialists, few things are more exciting than landing that media interview. Every journalist interview, whether it’s a top business pub or a targeted trade outlet, is a win. But an interview isn’t a story until it’s posted.

To expedite the process and ensure a positive outcome, it’s standard practice among PR teams to prep executives with a briefing document highlighting details about the interviewer, the nature of the conversation, possible questions, and recent pieces by the journalist in question. 

But things do not always go as planned. What happens when something goes off track? How can PR specialists handle tricky situations that threaten a great story?

Someone is a no-show

This is a rare occurrence, but it happens. Is there a worse feeling than sitting on a conference line or Zoom call waiting for someone to show up? If after a few minutes you are still getting radio silence, end the call and work on rescheduling. If the journalist is working under a tight deadline, offer a written statement to be included in their piece. If the piece is not as timely, reschedule for a time that works for everyone. Being stood up by a journalist is embarrassing, and it can even make the PR rep look bad, which is why meticulous confirmation in writing is always necessary. However, it can be rescheduled. If the corporate spokesperson is a no-show, however, that will require real damage control absent an emergency situation. Always make sure your spokesperson is fully available and prepared.

Spokesperson isn’t a good fit

Often a CEO or founder will be in demand as a media spokesperson, especially at high-growth technology companies. Realistically, however, a spokesperson matrix may be needed. A new product launch interview needs a senior product specialist, a change in strategic direction a C-level executive, a technology exploration a chief engineer, and so on. It’s important to match the right interview opportunity with the correct and appropriate spokesperson.

Media prep didn’t stick

Formal media training can be helpful for executive spokespersons who are new to giving press interviews or who need a quick prep for a new announcement or tricky situation. It typically covers anticipated questions, ways to stay on-topic, and on-camera tips for remaining calm and engaging. But sometimes it doesn’t stick. General shyness, language barriers, or lack of experience can pose obstacles to a productive interview. In that case, it helps to conduct interview over email. A written Q&A can allow the time and care to manage responses and ensure there will be no misunderstanding. 

A spokesperson makes a mistake

Occasionally a corporate spokesperson inadvertently offers inaccurate information. In that situation it’s important to correct the mistake as soon as possible, even if it’s after publication. What’s trickier is if a spokesperson lets a confidential piece of information slip out. If someone mistakenly reveals a confidential launch, future merger plan, or other piece of proprietary information, there is no guarantee that it won’t be in the story. It’s generally best to play it cool, and, in the case of truly significant news, try to negotiate a deal with the journalist in question so that he will get first crack at the story once it becomes public.

Interview is deadly dull 

PR specialists cannot always predict how a spokesperson and journalist will interact. Some spokespeople have charismatic personalities and can talk to anyone in an engaging way while others may need a bit more prep. If you don’t have a naturally engaging spokesperson, or if he rambles into irrelevant or technical topics or is long-winded, the interview can be dull. In that case it’s appropriate for the PR person staffing the interview to gently redirect the conversation to focus on the most cogent and relevant points.  

Journalist seems unprepared

I’ve hosted media interviews more than once where the journalist has said, ‘Remind me what we’re talking about again?’ It happens more often than you think. Media are often crunched for time, with multiple interviews in a single day, and they may need a reminder on how to start the conversation. For journalists new to the space, this may actually be an opportunity to educate them on your industry or issue and allow you to tell the story the way you want. The short-term  goal of every interaction is to get a good story, but an equally important longer-term one is to help the journalist keep you on file as a good source for future pieces.  

PR Tips For Taking Advantage Of Breaking News

How can PR agencies keep their clients top-of-mind in a 24-hour media environment? The most effective public relations teams develop strategies to “newsjack” for opportunities to keep pace with the news cycle. This is particularly useful when an organization doesn’t have hard news to share, or when the product roadmap doesn’t contain any new launches or innovations to generate media coverage.

Besides, elevating a brand or company’s image by carefully inserting their business or product into the existing conversation is exciting. It could essentially leverage one agency’s capability over another’s when seeking new business opportunities. And there are certain B2B tech sectors, like cybersecurity, where reactive media pitching is often a large and important program component. Digital security brands, among others, need to be visible when the latest ransomware story is dominating headlines. 

How Newsjacking Works

Newsjacking, as defined by David Meerman Scott, is “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Reactive media pitching should not be the centerpiece of a good PR program; however, it can help capitalize on opportunities that generate tangible results and positive buzz.

PR teams must operate in a real-time mindset to do this well in a 24-hour news cycle. Media must deliver new and compelling information to consumers instantly in a hotly competitive environment, and we’re here to help.

Speed is the most critical element of successful newsjacking, so the PR team should act fast. How soon is too soon, though?

Avoid breaking news that is controversial or polarizing

There’s a fine line between being opportunistic and being gratuitous. PR agencies must determine if the juice is worth the squeeze, acting judiciously and using good judgment. By using a thoughtful approach we can maintain the client’s integrity and our own credibility when actively chasing a breaking story. Avoid tragic events, or at the very least gauge risk by assessing how the audience might respond. 

Brands should also make sure the messaging and tone employed along with the news or trend they’re focused on is aligned with their business or product. Jumping on a story for the sake of coverage may have the opposite result than intended, positioning the brand as insensitive or worse. We saw this when Urban Outfitters and others used Hurricane Sandy to promote online shopping by touting #SandySales. 

Are you fast enough?

Because news moves quickly, the pressure is on to develop a creative, well-packaged message that provides an original, relevant angle. Don’t wait on the next big story to break; instead anticipate the needs of journalists with whom you have established relationships and know your industry. Beyond that, it is optimal to newsjack within 24-48 hours of news breaking as journalists rush to develop their next major stories. 

At a typical PR agency, success can depend on getting timely client approval for a same-day response to a breaking story. That means that the broad messaging and coordination process should be worked out in advance. A good PR plan can include solid examples of relevant situations and stories for comment so that all parties agree on what’s appropriate.

“Early on, PRs must communicate the importance of newsjacking and explain how it works to ensure their buy-in and reinforce the value. Then, if a client is immediately needed for approvals, interviews, etc., they’ll understand and deliver,” shares our own Chris Harihar. 

Finally, PR teams can ensure a speedy response by dedicating a team member to handling research. Knowing your audience is great, but understanding how media operate and whom to target at those outlets is key. 

You can’t plan to newsjack, but you can anticipate trends

It all starts with the plan.  PR teams should look ahead to forthcoming news events and determine trends, but, unfortunately, it is impossible to predict the next big story.

So, how can we position brands and companies as relevant when the news cycle shifts the conversation so quickly?

  1. Stay up to speed on the latest news. Narrow the focus to your industry through media monitoring tools like Google Alerts, building a Twitter moments list and flagging trending news or relevant keyword searches.

  2. Have easy access to a content library of pre-approved commentary from company spokespersons, compiled pitches, data reports and, if applicable, company blogs.

  3. Streamline the process for journalists by keeping responses short, sweet and to the point.

Finally, bear in mind that newsjacking doesn’t have to be negative; in fact, it’s usually smarter to focus on positive stories or breaking news that’s relatively neutral, like an economic report or corporate merger. A cross-national study of negativity bias in humans shared “the potential for more positive content, and suggest that there may be a reason to reconsider the conventional journalistic wisdom that if it bleeds, it leads.”

 

Why Press Coverage Still Matters In PR

Is earned media – otherwise known as press coverage — still the key to a successful public relations program? Or is it simply one component of the broader picture?

It may seem like a silly question; after all, “publicity” is what people think of when they think about PR. And even in the business, many reduce the broader public relations function to one outcome – positive press coverage, often called earned media. Yet we resist the “publicist” label, and with good reason. We’ve embraced the PESO content model. We’re counselors. We help build and manage reputations. Most of all, we’re a strategic resource for internal and external clients.

Given this, I sometimes feel the pendulum has swung too far in the strategy direction. Prospective clients often tell us that their agency is hard-working, smart, and collegial, but that they simply don’t prioritize top-tier media coverage. And it’s true that many PR firms have reshuffled their service offerings. As the power of digital and social media has soared, they see new opportunities. Many have paid-media envy, because it looks easy. They know media relations is labor-intensive and not as scaleable as SEM or paid social. It can’t really be automated without risking embarrassing mistakes. It’s time-consuming, and time is the basis for our compensation in most cases.

PR people far outnumber working media

One reason for the concern about earned media is the flabbergasting ratio of PR people to working journalists. Last time I checked it was around 6 PRs for every journalist. So, even if you assume fully half of the professional PR population isn’t engaged in active media pitching, it’s a large number and an unhealthy ratio. Sometimes it feels like there are simply not enough media outlets to meet the goals of those PR team members trying to fill their client reports with good news. Then, too, bad practices have made things tougher for all of us. People who spam journalists with irrelevant offers have always been a liability for the industry. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Jokes aside, earned media has and will always have a place in public relations. Here’s why.

Positive press drives SEO

Just as the large PR firms cast around for more lucrative and scaleable services to sell, marketers have come to value earned media results for its brand-building and SEO impact. The benefits are clear; ever since Google cracked down on link schemes, marketers have prized stories and features from recognized publications with high-value domains as boosting their search positions and even driving noticeable spikes in web traffic over months or even years.

Thought leadership content is persuasive

One type of earned media content that is often intrinsic to B2B and political campaigns is the op-ed. An interesting study seems to confirm that high-value content like op-ed pieces in reputable publications are indeed persuasive.  In two randomized experiments involving both the general public and so-called “elites”, researchers found that op-ed content had a measurable and lasting effect on people’s views among both the general public and policy experts.

Earned media offers credibility

Another study on the credibility of information sources suggests that press coverage is more relevant than ever. Researchers looked at how people evaluated news stories, traditional ads, native ads, independent blogs, and branded blogs. They surveyed 1500 members of a consumer panel and ran focus groups with a subset of them. The consumers found earned media stories the most credible of all the information sources they considered. They also valued posts written by independent bloggers, rating them more credible than corporate blog content.

It always comes down to credibility. That’s what earned media offers – within limits – and that’s what we at most PR agencies still deliver. It’s still the centerpiece of what we do, and although many agencies are expanding their offerings, it’s valuable both as a key service and as a point of view that stresses the credibility of a brand message.

What we do well offers the most value

At the end of the day, the most valuable services we offer aren’t necessarily the most profitable if we can’t perform credibly. Look at the flipside of the PR agency that wants to offer a range of marketing services. I notice that branding, digital marketing, or even SEO agencies say they offer PR or earned media. But no knowledgeable communications professional would trust them with a major PR campaign. The promise just isn’t very credible. At midsize firms, we cannot be all things to all people.

Bottom line, we should focus less on the superiority of any one channel and more on better overall strategy to drive consistent and compelling messages across all platforms and channels – including earned media, which will be a key part of public relations for a long time to come.

How To Get The Most From PR Freelancers

Occasionally public relations agencies tap freelance contractors to manage peak workloads during busy seasons or to bring specialist expertise to a project. Post-COVID, there are probably a greater variety of freelancers available given that remote work is so commonplace in our industry. But how can we make the most from our investment in freelance consultants? Here are some best practices for managing outside practitioners.

Consider them team members

Freelancers are partners in your success. Rather than treating them like temporary members of the team, consider them as extensions of it. Depending on the length of the engagement, it’s often advantageous to include a contract employee in relevant team and company meetings. Internal team members and clients will appreciate the investment in proper communication and management.

Be transparent with client companies involved

As for clients, it’s best that they know of any freelancer’s status, and in most cases full client contact is a plus. Because a freelance employee will sign an NDA and in most cases a non-compete agreement, the agency team shouldn’t worry that they’ll disclose confidential client information or try to lure the client away. Most agencies rely on a small number of trusted freelancers in whom they place their confidence, so they should feel comfortable with full transparency.

Look for specialists

In some cases when we seek to bring on PR freelancers, we’re looking for additional arms and legs for a special project. In others, it pays to seek out specialist expertise that complements the existing full-time team. For example, we occasionally bring in technical writers to interview engineers or other staff at client companies to create background material for long-form content. And we have an ongoing relationship with a morning show specialist who has a line to the key segment producers and will never give up on cracking the big interview! Specialists can help educate the team as well as contributing to it.

Pay promptly

Agencies expect discretion, loyalty and professionalism from any freelance staffer. The freelancers also have the right to expect timely payment for their work. Anyone who has served as an outside contractor on a PR project knows how uncomfortable and annoying it is to have to nag an accounts payable manager for payment. It’s a simple matter of courtesy and respect.

Think diversity

The pandemic has widened the talent pool in some ways, which opens hiring possibilities not only to professionals of all ethnicities, but to over six million people in the US labor force who have some form of disability. Many consultants with mobility limitations can work remotely and will no longer need to deal with the challenges of long daily commutes. 

Choose wisely and check references

It goes without saying that no freelancer should need special training beyond project orientation and processes. With training costs being one of the biggest expenses of hiring a traditional entry-level employee, eliminating that time is a benefit. If you’re vetting a new freelance consultant, it pays to query them thoroughly about recent work and relevant expertise, and to speak with the references they supply, as well as those they don’t. PR is really a very small industry. 

Manage their time

Bringing on a freelancer means you can choose someone with the exact skill set required for the project. This means they can get the job with little time wasted. It’s important to manage their hours while respecting their independence. In PR, publicists generally know how long certain tasks take, like writing press releases or drafting pitches, so it’s smart to ask for check-ins on hours spent or feedback needed.

Lessons Of Theranos: Sex, Lies, And PR

Like many in tech PR, I’m fascinated by the Theranos story because of what it says about Silicon Valley, public relations, and the press. Now that the trial of its disgraced founder Elizabeth Holmes has started, media and pundits have updated their hot takes on her spectacular rise and fall. Theranos claimed to have devised a technology that offered ultra-sophisticated diagnostic testing based on a single pinprick of blood. The implications – and potential PR angles – were irresistible. It would revolutionize diagnostic testing, making it easier, cheaper, and more accessible. It would disrupt the legacy companies in the field. It would be a boon for needle-phobics. Most appealing to the media, it was started and run by a woman. And Holmes wasn’t just any woman; she was young and blond, a Stanford dropout with a fascinating backstory who channeled Steve Jobs. Is it any wonder that Theranos was valued at $10 billion at its pinnacle?

Fake it ’til you break it?

Its breathtaking success and subsequent crash tells us a lot about the sexism that persists in startup circles, how investors see women in tech, and how females try to cope with the perception.

Still, I was surprised to read that in the years following the collapse of Theranos, female entrepreneurs in life sciences and biotech say they’re constantly compared to Holmes. The Theranos case, according to a piece in The New York Times, has “left behind a seemingly indelible image of how female founders can push boundaries…. they faced the additional hurdle of fighting assumptions that they were like Ms. Holmes, they said, something their male counterparts have generally not had to contend with.” One female founder of a health testing company said that she was linked to Holmes so frequently that her advisors suggested she dye her naturally blond hair a darker color, presumably to stop the damaging comparison.

Wow. But even more remarkably, some women founders have weighed in with a degree of sympathy on the circumstances around the Holmes disgrace. Entrepreneur Beth Esponnette posted on Medium that, while she fully recognized that Holmes was wrong, “I still believe that she thought she was doing the right thing taking the universal advice of Silicon Valley: ‘Fake it till you make it.'” Esponnette claims that in her own struggle to get funding, she was encouraged by investors to overpromise and exaggerate even to the point of lying.

Can confidence turn to criminality?

I take Esponette’s point that female founders are seen and treated differently than male counterparts. And I doubt that the next brash young male techpreneur is worried that he’ll be compared to Adam Neumann, the WeWork founder who dazzled investors and media, only to leave in disgrace (albeit with a $1.7 billion parachute.)

Yet her view that women in Silicon Valley are held to unique and inappropriate standards is a double-edged one. It’s clear that Holmes was lionized in part because she was female. Anyone who works in PR with high-growth technology businesses knows that the media are eager to cover women founders. There are so few of them, and what’s different naturally makes news. Holmes would have been the first self-made woman billionaire in tech, and everyone was rooting for her. Of course her sex was a factor. And “fake it til you make it” is about projecting confidence, not an excuse to engage in criminal fraud.

Journalists missed red flags

Of course, the Theranos debacle also tells us something about journalism. As someone who has spent a career in PR, where we basically try to build up business leaders and tech entrepreneurs in the media, it feels weird to criticize the media who took a good pitch and ran with it. But there’s no denying the Theranos story is about the credulity of journalists in the tech sector. They were thirsty for a female Steve Jobs, so they didn’t question Holmes’s claims. What’s more, reporters often work in packs, especially in sector bubbles like Silicon Valley. Media coverage begets more media coverage. Even as reporters compete fiercely for the story, they’re influenced by what colleagues and competitors write. As soon as Holmes’s PR team cracked one top-tier business publication, the rest clamored to cover her with fresh angles and updated quotes. Few questioned the culture of secrecy or the absence of peer-reviewed research on the Theranos technology. No one asked why there wasn’t a single physician (except Senator Bill Frist) on its board. It took a couple of sharp professors and John Carreyrou, with his investigative background and outside-the-bubble pedigree, to bring down the house.

A PR-first culture can’t work in healthcare

Finally, even if you attribute Holmes’s dishonesty to the self-aggrandizing ethos of Silicon Valley, that ethos doesn’t translate outside the tech industry. It’s one thing to promote “vaporware” by exaggerating a product’s readiness or overpromising on features. But in medical diagnostics, the stakes are high. The consequences for mistakes can be fatal. It’s the main reason why I can’t ultimately swallow the “fake it til you make it” mores as an excuse here.

The tragedy of Elizabeth Holmes is that we’re still clamoring to make her a symbol – of sexism, of journalistic laziness, investor gullibility, or even imposter syndrome and the pressure to succeed. She may be all those things, but in the end, a lie is a lie and a fraud is a fraud. Even in tech, a great PR campaign will only take you so far.

5 Surefire Ways To Generate Quality Content For PR

For PR teams, earned media placements are a key deliverable of a strategic public relations campaign. Typically they’re articles or broadcast segments that feature a given company or brand in a positive way. Earned media offers credibility even though we give up perfect control over the message.

But earned media doesn’t always achieve the frequency we need to promote client brands, and some stories have a lengthy gestation period. Earned results aren’t usually enough for a robust PR program. And given the ubiquity of social media, there’s an almost endless need for content, content, and more content. Here’s a look at the most reliable ways to generate content that supports a B2B brand outside of earned media.

A white paper is a workhorse

One form of content that works particularly well for B2B brands is the white paper. A high-quality white paper does double or triple duty: it showcases a company’s expertise in its given area; offers solutions to customer problems or needs; and it often works as a lead-generator as well. Yes, they’re often lengthy, but white papers can be enlivened with graphics, images and stats to hold the reader’s attention. They’re an impressive document for anyone wanting to take a deep dive into a specific business or technical topic.

The findings or data from a white paper can also be pitched out to the media. However, to make a lengthy document more digestible for journalists, boiling the findings and content down into a short release may be the way to go. We always link to the full white paper in the release, in case the reporter wants to dive deeper or include it in their story. While white papers are often a heavy lift when it comes to time and research, once complete, they can generally be shared and repurposed for months or even years.

Podcasts are popular (and pretty painless)

The most popular alternative to the “traditional” media placement is unquestionably the podcast. Over the past several years, the medium has grown in popularity along with the acceleration of mobile technology. Many publications and companies have their own podcasts, and there’s a show out there for basically any topic under the sun.

That’s why podcasts should be on every media pitch list. A C-suite exec, entrepreneur, or company expert who’s knowledgeable and passionate about a topic or who has a compelling backstory will make the best podcast guest. The conversations that take place during a recording are more laid back than a typical interview, and questions are often shared in advance so the guest has time to think through their responses. Any PR strategy that leaves out podcasts – or social audio in general –  is probably missing out on opportunities.

Thought leadership events keep on giving

Another excellent way to generate topical content, particularly for a B2B brand, is through a customized event. If you think about events as just one-and-done initiatives, think again. We regularly organize panel discussion events for clients that bring together a company expert or CEO with other (non-competitive) industry experts and a journalist as moderator. The panelists can include other industry executives, analysts, academics, or journalists. We invite media to attend and cover the discussions, but the real value of the panel events is typically the content that results. And it can have a much longer life than a two-hour event.

While COVID has put a halt to in-person panel discussions, virtual events work well and can even draw a wider audience of attendees. The discussion can be released in edited video snippets, bylined articles, contributed blog posts, op-ed pieces, and even on-site interviews.

Customer case studies sell benefits

The humble customer testimonial still works. In fact, there’s almost no better way for a B2B company to showcase its success than with an example that shows how its product or service helped solve a problem or address an issue for a customer. Case studies tend to be far shorter than white papers, and they don’t typically require in-depth research beyond the interview with the customer. The best media strategy for promoting a case study is to condense the story to a few pithy lines to pitch it for placement in a trade publication or other vertical media outlet. Alternatively, a short and compelling video testimonial can work well as part of an explainer video or even on a business platform like LinkedIn.

While case studies are clearly self-serving, if the story is good enough, they will find a good home. It’s important that both companies involved have a spokesperson who is willing to speak to the media. Many journalists won’t write these types of stories without participation from both parties. Some companies produce more case studies more than others, where customers may be reluctant to  go public for competitive reasons. But for us they’re a tried-and-true way to showcase what our client companies can do.

Contributed content from brand advocates has power

Influencer content isn’t just for consumer brands. All types of organizations can create quality content by hooking up with brand advocates or experts. For B2B brands, these can mean a formal “board of advisors” or simply a loosely organized set of contacts. They might be analysts, academics, other recognized experts, or even professional organizations brought on for paid partnerships. We’ve had stellar success using influential experts for customer education events (often with media participation), sponsored surveys or research reports, or top-shelf white paper content.

As times change and media channels mulitply, it’s important to diversify the content mix. Earned media, “owned” or branded content, and well-crafted events work together to make for a high-impact PR program for any business brand.

Unique Ways PR Pros Can (and Should) Consume News

PR specialists must eat, sleep and breathe news. We need to stay connected to a variety of news outlets to stay current and knowledgeable, both for our own benefit as well as that of our clients. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, news consumption in the US was up by 215%, showing that we rely more on the news than ever before. 

One of the best and easiest ways to position executives as thought leaders is by taking advantage of relevant news stories as soon as they break. “Newsjacking” is one way that PR people secure reactive coverage by jumping on a story that’s already in the news. The worst feeling in the world for a PR agency staffer is failing to notice a big breaking story and thus missing an opportunity to newsjack. So what are some ways we can stay on top of the 24/7 news game?

News Apps

Sometimes unnecessary notifications on our phones can be distracting, but for PR teams, notifications from news apps are essential. Because notifications can be customized to topics you want to stay on top of, they’re extremely useful. Popular apps like Flipboard, feedly, and even Apple News can be tailored to your interests so that you can stay up-to-date on both specific publications as well as topics. 

Newsletters

Newsletters are another essential tool for any PR person’s inbox. Email newsletters are a fast way to scan the daily headlines from a given publication in the hope that a long-awaited exclusive has finally gone live, or simply to shape the day’s media outreach. Some of my favorite newsletters and the ones I read on a daily basis are The Daily Skimm, Digiday 5 Things to Know, and The Morning Brew. The benefit is that they offer brief summaries on the most important headlines of the day, so we can gauge our interest in more in-depth searches. Check out this list of newsletters every PR pro should receive. 

Podcasts 

Podcasts have soared in popularity in the past few years. Fifty-five percent (155 million) of the US population has listened to a podcast. Podcasts are not only a great way to go in-depth on a topic, but they’re also an easy way to consume news on the go. Popular news podcasts like The Daily by The New York Times, Up First by NPR and WSJ What’s News by The Wall Street Journal are great vehicles for catching up on the news in less than 15 minutes. They’re often hosted by influential reporters and are ideal when you don’t have time to sit down and read the news first thing in the morning.  

Voice Assistants

I’d be lost without my Amazon Echo. I even became that lazy person who hooked up their lights to a smart plug so I can turn my lights off by voice. But in addition to rewarding laziness, we can train our voice assistants to keep us up to date on the news. I’ve set up a skill on my Echo to give me a flash briefing if I say “Alexa, Give me the news,” and anyone can set up their favorite outlets to hear major headlines from outlets like Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR and more. This is a great feature for PR people who might want to hear the news first thing when they wake up as they get ready for the day ahead. 

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What are some ways you consume the news that others may not know about? Let us know on Twitter @colleeno_pr