Tech Companies Concerned About Diversity — Here’s How PR Can Help

One of the top challenges tech PR people are helping clients with today is attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce. In particular, the artificial intelligence (AI) sector is facing deserved and overdue scrutiny about its commitment to diversity and inclusion. As companies continue to talk about their AI, machine learning and data science capabilities, journalists are asking tougher questions about the way these technologies are built. How many people of color, women and other underrepresented groups are part of the development of these tools? How involved are they? Unfortunately, the data isn’t positive.

According to a recent study by New York University’s AI Now Institute, the AI industry is overwhelmingly white and male. Just 15% of the AI team at Facebook are women. At Google, it’s just 10%. Meanwhile, less than 3% of Google’s workforce is black, with Facebook at 4%. These are embarrassing numbers. 

Not to pick on Google, but as a leader, they should be a role model. Google’s ongoing AI ethics council controversy is another example of the AI industry’s diversity problem. The company was criticized — and rightfully so — for a laughably bad rollout that saw no meaningful diversity among council members. Since then, the ethics council has been disbanded, and the reasoning behind the decision is even more controversial.

Why does this matter? Well, these issues aren’t just bad optics. The lack of representation can lead to deeply ingrained biases in AI offerings that limit their overall efficacy and success. Take, for example, facial recognition technology that cannot interpret a black or brown face. Or a “smart” algorithm that predominantly serves housing ads to white audiences. A dearth of diversity in AI can directly impact business outcomes. 

Fortunately, PR teams can support AI organizations by asking tough questions before a journalist does. These questions not only inform PR and marketing strategy, they can also influence how the client hires, change the way a product is being developed, and more. Strategic communications, if done right, has a lot of power here. To take advantage of that, AI companies need to work with partners that will push them to create meaningful responses to the challenges in AI ethics and diversity. 

But that’s easier said than done. How can AI companies that might face tough questions about their AI build a PR apparatus that can effectively shepherd them through that? Here’s what you can do to optimize chances for success. 

Hire a diverse PR team

If you’re concerned about the lack of diversity in your ranks and how it might impact market perception of your product, seek out a PR team that is credibly and authentically diverse. This is critical. A PR team comprised of underrepresented talent is better equipped to consider challenging questions regarding AI ethics and diversity from key media. This must be a proactive effort, however. During the RFP process, research diverse PR agencies and practitioners. You can even note diversity as an important focus in your RFP to ensure that a potential partner offers a diverse team. 

Be open and honest

With a new PR team on board, AI companies should have candid and open conversations about the diversity of their staff and how it might impact the way their products work. PR and other relevant stakeholders from HR and other departments can come together to have honest workshopping sessions about these challenges and their solutions. Together, team members can determine the best way forward relative to positioning, messages, and more. 

Listen to your PR team

PR needs to pose tough diversity questions to AI organizations. For example, a client once told me they built an AI that could determine a person’s gender using an image, and wanted to promote it. Knowing the sensitivities regarding gender identity, I asked tough questions, and we decided the product wasn’t ready for prime time. The client listened instead of pushing for a premature rollout that would’ve likely created questions and controversy. For AI companies concerned about AI ethics and AI diversity, it’s imperative to listen to your PR team when they make a recommendation. 

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.

Challenger Brands: Here’s How To Win At PR

Regardless of the industry, a challenger brand can have a natural PR advantage. Challenger brands can shake things up through unique points of view, innovation or a better story. Media like underdogs, whether they’re Casper challenging the mattress industry, TikTok going after Facebook or the Dollar Shave Club taking on Gillette.

But many brands don’t have Casper’s $240 million venture funding. And to raise visibility with press, it’s not enough to simply be a successful challenger. Your brand needs to do more than that to build inroads and tell your story effectively. Here are some tips based on tech PR experience.

Be bold.

Dollar Shave Club didn’t build a billion-dollar business and sell to Unilever in 2016 without throwing a few bombs. Everyone remembers their viral, bro-y YouTube ad in 2011, for example. It helped the brand build a billion-dollar business by being bold and aggressive, highlighting the pitfalls of the traditional razor industry and punching up at massive CPGs like Unilever and P&G. Gillette, a P&G brand, even sued them in 2015, citing patent infringements. This allowed Dollar Shave Club to be even more aggressive in positioning its brand against CPGs, claiming that the incumbents were out of touch and threatened by change.

Previous Crenshaw client Sundial Brands, makers of inclusive personal care and beauty products, is another example. Sundial (marketers of  the Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage lines) identified an underserved market and developed products for it. Equally important, the brand spoke out about CPGs overlooking women of color. They also made the story bigger than the company — broadening out to themes on inclusion, gender, and more, which can be controversial. Rather than compete with Sundial, Unilever went the Dollar Shave Club route and acquired them. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

Show the receipts.

Media are naturally skeptical of commercial claims — and for good reason. They’re always getting pitched by PR people who say they represent the next Facebook or WeWork or Airbnb. More often than not, these claims are wildly embellished or even fabricated. The last thing a journalist wants is to bring a bogus challenger brand story to their editor or readers. So, if they express any interest in hearing more, challenger brands need to anticipate probing questions about scale and growth. That means being prepared to “show the receipts” and peel back the curtain. It will inspire confidence with media and create credibility for the brand.

For example, our tech PR team at Crenshaw supported the U.S. launch of WeTransfer, the popular file-sharing service from the Netherlands. As part of our strategy, we went after market leaders like Dropbox and Hightail. In stories we pitched to outlets like Business Insider (“This Dutch startup is designing a plan to beat Dropbox — and it’s already profitable”) and Forbes (“Dutch File-Sharing Startup WeTransfer And Its 80 Million Users Are Coming For The U.S. Market”), for example, we talked up WeTransfer’s start-up persona and its appeal to the “creative class” versus bland competitors, but we made sure to mention its 80 million users and status as a profitable business. We had to if we wanted to be taken seriously.

Take advantage of social media. 

For challenger brands, social media can offer powerful PR and marketing opportunities, particularly when it comes to real-time marketing responses to news events or competitive moves. Smaller brands are usually more nimble and faster to pull the trigger when it comes to social content because they don’t typically have teams of lawyers approving every tweet. Savvy challengers also use social media to capture audience attention in innovative ways, interact with press on a one-to-one basis, and create a distinct voice and brand personality compared to category incumbents.

Take Taco Bell. It has built an outspoken and irreverent social media persona across a number of platforms, from Twitter to Snapchat. As a result it’s created a foothold with younger consumers while more dominant QSR players like McDonald’s have failed. Away, the luggage company, is another example. In just four years, it has used social media, particularly visual storytelling on Instagram, to create a globally-recognized travel lifestyle brand. The team clearly realized that the luggage industry had become too commoditized and built an identity that sets the brand apart. Their sales are now surging and longtime market leaders like Samsonite are feeling the pressure.

Challenger brands might think that, because they’re challengers, big PR wins are harder to generate. That’s largely true when it comes to most challengers. But there are storytelling opportunities that the incumbents don’t have. All it takes is a creative team, a willingness to take risks, and serious commitment to PR.

3 Social Platforms Tech PR Pros Need To Know

If you’re in tech PR, you try to know a lot about every social media platform. You have to — either for research, to promote clients, for personal branding, or to connect with journalists. Still, it’s a challenge to keep up with the latest social sites and services, because every day brings something new. With that in mind, here are three up-and-coming social media platforms tech PR pros need to know and use in 2019.

3 social platforms tech PR pros need to know

TikTok

The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz has an excellent explainer on TikTok, so check that out. But, in a nutshell TikTok is a short-form video social network for Gen Z. Users post 15-second clips and the content ranges from vlogs to (mostly) musical performances to brain teasers, and beyond. I’ve seen everything on TikTok (follow me at @bravacadotoast). The content is hilarious and weird. For tech PR pros, TikTok is an opportunity to research content preferences among younger audiences and identify nascent memes that could be useful for marketing campaigns. For tech brands interested in a unique marketing channel, it’s also ripe with potential. TikTok campaigns have built-in PR value simply because the platform is sexy right now. Take advantage.

Imgur

Imgur is a personal favorite. Look at the site. It looks like someone vomited memes on a page. That’s what makes it great. It’s an image and photo hosting and sharing site that has actually been around for 10 years. At one point it was a platform for image hosting, and the social piece grew out of that years later, popularized through Reddit. According to SimilarWeb, Imgur gets 500 million monthly visits. It’s insanely popular and a great place for tech PR pros and brands to research memes, get inspired by content and understand what young men in particular are thinking. From the always incredible Kerry Flynn: “More than 80 percent of users are male, and more than 50 percent are millennial male.” As a more tactical use case, it can host press images for you if you’re in a bind. But make sure to only use it to host something you are okay with being public.

Houseparty

Launched three years ago, Houseparty is another video-powered social network, but with a different use case. I like Business Insider’s description of it as “a group video-chat app most easily described as FaceTime but with more people.” Users are typically in the early 20s, so they’re a bit older than TikTok. While its popularity has stalled a little as wealthier competitors like Snapchat and Facebook have taken it on as competitors, the user numbers are still impressive. Today Houseparty says 20 million people spend an hour on the service every day. That’s a captivated and engaged audience that tech PR brands — particularly on the consumer side — can potentially connect with through influencer marketing or even sponsored chats. Tech PR pros need to use the service to identify opportunities and guide clients who want unique activations.
What sites did I miss? Let me know on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

Tech Trends Media Didn’t Care About In 2018

In tech PR, the only constant is change. Every year, we see new trends in technology emerge that can inform our programs, content, or even real-time newsjacking. To make way for the new trends, others that have had their time in the spotlight may fall out of favor. As tech PR pros, we often have an inside track on what those are. Why? Because our job is to stay up-to-date on what media cover and care about. This intel guides our pitch angles, plans, bylines, conference submissions — basically everything.
With that in mind, here are a few of the most notable tech trends that went away or simply became less important in 2018, based on story volume or media interest.

Internet of Things

IoT didn’t go away in 2018. However, the category’s “newness” has worn off, and media are less likely to be interested in a story simply because it’s tied to IoT. Just a couple of years ago when IoT was still a relatively new concept, you would see flash-in-a-pan startups that were offering IoT-enabled curtains or toothbrushes drive legitimate story volume. Media thought they were intriguing IoT applications and often had great visuals for a story, even if not very practical. That alone made them coverable. That’s no longer the case. Also, as the IoT category has matured, security and privacy have become key concerns. The coverage has fundamentally shifted from “look at this cool tech” to “look at this dumb IoT device that may have security flaws — is the risk worth it?”

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding in tech is here to stay, but as a publicity angle, it’s long over. The rise of Kickstarter and Indiegogo created a new era in tech PR, with pre-revenue businesses tapping PR to pitch crowdfunding campaigns so that they could get coverage and raise money. Rinse and repeat. Let’s be honest — media don’t want to cover startups that have no capital and no scalable product. Every tech journalist was pitched thousands of crowdfunding campaigns in the last five years — many of which were terrible and raised nothing. Others raised money but never delivered a product. So, media aren’t inclined to cover these campaigns anymore. There’s too much risk and uncertainty. Oculus Rift, which famously launched on Kickstarter in 2012 and broke records, was an anomaly, not the norm.

Crypto

If you’re a cryptocurrency startup, I will happily take your money for PR. But note this — crypto as a tech trend, like Bitcoin’s value, is cratering. Like IoT and crowdfunding, these are innovations that have had and will continue to have a massive impact on the technology space over the long term. But media are less likely to care about your crypto exchange or your Ethereum-based chat platform in 2019 as the category’s shine has worn off. A higher bar is required to drive any positive coverage around a crypto startup or storyline, since months of bad news have shut off opportunities. This is also why you’ve seen the rise of crypto-focused media outlets. As general tech media have narrowed overall coverage of the category, these trades are stepping in to take on the stories like new company announcements that might not otherwise find a home. Here, if you got in early, you may have captured some great coverage about the technology’s promise. Now? It’s an uphill climb to generate a positive story.

These are some of the tech trends I think went away or were minimized in 2018. Am I wrong? Right? What else am I missing? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

7 Must-Have PR Tech Tools

 

Web 2.0 has made the daily nuts and bolts of public relations work unrecognizable from a decade ago. Now, every public relations team needs reliable tech tools for media monitoring, instant messaging, task management, and media-list building, just to name a few. PR people routinely use apps for document design like BeFunky, the industry standard software Cision, and a wire distribution platform like PR Newswire. Some in our agency swear by sanity-preserving apps that have nothing to do with daily business, like Spotify and Calm (for meditation, which we still aspire to!) Apps and web tools come and go like Silicon Valley startups, and the choices can feel endless. Here’s our must-have list.

7 great tools for the tech PR workshop

Wunderlist

Crenshaw partner Chris Harihar swears that Wunderlist is the next best thing to having an assistant (insider tip: PR people do not typically have dedicated assistants). Wunderlist is pleasing to the eyes, and more user-friendly than Outlook’s “tasks” bar. It’s synced across all devices so it’s readily available to check at all hours of the night (insider tip: PR people work nights). Plus, it allows you to separate work lists from others like travel, chores – whatever the user deems necessary to keep life from spinning into chaos. You can toggle seamlessly your grocery list and the Q4 PR plan. Also, if you’re collaborating on a project with a coworker – as we always are – we can share lists using the app.

Mailtester

Cision’s media contact information should never been taken as gospel, since journalists, outlets, and email addresses are constantly in flux. PR pros can verify a reporter’s email address quickly by typing it into the single bar on the website www.mailtester.com. If the contact is elusive but you know the domain, you can test address combinations. Most domains allow access for this type of testing, although a few do not. Mailtester or one of the similar apps like EmailHunter is a lifesaver for most PR people.

Techmeme

Techmeme is a favorite news aggregator website for tech PR people. Every pro has her go-to channel for tracking news developments in technology. A quick glance at Techmeme.com or its e-newsletter brings you up to speed on trending conversations from outlets like The Verge, ArsTechnica, and Financial Times – as well as a list of upcoming tech conferences and events. Our own account supervisor Erica Schain says it’s the best place to get a summary in real time of what’s trending across the tech blogs, offering a bird’s eye view of what reporters are writing about. As a bonus, Techmeme launched its own podcast earlier this year, hoping to duplicate the roaring success of The New York Times Daily, a top podcast since 2017.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo remains a go-to tool to assist PR pros in keeping track of who’s writing about what topics, and the resulting social engagement from each placement. This tool is key for sniffing out gaps in the narrative that allow PR pros to find the right story angle to pitch. BuzzSumo pro plans allow one to identify influencers’ shared content, find backlink opportunities, and monitor brands and competitors’ content. A quick search returns a list of influencers on any given topic, along with several telling statistics, including domain authority and share percentage. Cost ranges from $79-$499 per month.

Slack

While heavy hitters like Microsoft (Yammer) are racing to develop applications to compete with Slack, and competitors like BaseCamp and Trello offer solid alternatives, it remains the best option for the Crenshaw Communications team for internal collaboration. We have separate channels set up for each client, and we can swiftly share links, images, and documents. Like many companies, we even have a dedicated channel for non work-related chat, where we might share a ridiculous pop culture story or gossip. Though Slack hasn’t yet unclogged email inboxes, it helps us make things happen faster — an absolute must in the world of New York tech PR.

UberConference

Remote voice and video communication are critical to PR work, from client meetings to media interviews. Every PR agency needs a versatile solution for meetings. UberConference allows for easy connections without pin codes and app downloads, and can be integrated with tools like Slack and LinkedIn. With the UberConference Business upgrade ($15/month), participants from 50 countries can call in. Further, the cloud software allows meeting participants to collaborate on documents during the call. Clearly, one of the great advantages of technology is its improvement of collaboration not only in PR, but all industries.

Survata

We encourage clients to tell data-driven stories that are mediaworthy and verifiable. Survata is an affordable market research company that advises on and executes surveys using its network of publishers and partnerships with research panels. An SMB can conduct market research with unlimited survey questions at a reasonable cost. We’ve found it a useful resource among the many options for customers surveys and newsmaking B2B opinion research.

PR Tips For A High-Impact Technology Launch

Technology companies gearing up for a new product launches know full well they’re adding to a crowded marketplace. It can be particularly challenging for B2B startups offering SaaS or other tech services to generate visibility when the category isn’t new. But no tech company can afford to overlook the power of public relations to create anticipation, credibility, and impact for a new offering. For the company, a new product launch is the biggest news in the world. How can they make it big to the people who matter?

Tap into the larger story

Increasingly, reporters in the tech, advertising and marketing space are less inclined to do traditional product launch coverage unless the company is a top gun. The media tend to focus on Facebook, Salesforce, and Amazon, among others. To be successful, tech PR pros need to tap into a broader, buzzed-about trend to make the product launch meaningful and timely. Why is the product or service needed? What pain points does it address? For example, a startup with a new software that detects manipulated images through machine learning can join the conversation about fake news stories, the growth of AI, or information security advances. And if you can tie your offering to one of the giants like Apple or Facebook, that helps, too.

Go the media exclusive route

If you’re not Adobe or Salesforce, driving embargoed coverage for a product launch can be difficult. Smaller companies and non-unicorn startups can consider providing a single media outlet with an “exclusive” on the announcement, meaning that they get the story first. Though there’s no guarantee, exclusive access makes the time and resources spent on the story more worthwhile for the outlet in question. An entire media sector may lack an incentive to cover a smaller company’s product under embargo unless the launch is massively interesting or the category is new. In some cases it’s better to drive one great story for a new product versus attempting to generate several and coming up empty handed. For more detail about the art of offering media exclusives, see this post about how to apply it in tech PR.

Get a partner involved

In the B2B world, product launches can get a big boost when a customer or beta user is on board to be spotlighted. Reporters will take even more interest if the client is a pilot partner, and the company has success metrics or positive reviews to share at launch. Partnering with a bigger brand in a non-competitive sector can be fruitful for a launch, since the smaller company can ride on its reputation coattails. Of course, strategic partnerships must be mutually beneficial, with the kind of “win-win” outcomes neither company could have gotten on its own. But a customer-driven launch can swiftly ramp up the news value of the announcement.

Adopt an influencer strategy

Another key element that drives news value is an influencer strategy. Journalists often like to speak to sector experts, either on or off the record, to understand the potential impact of a new product or service. If a company is launching its new product at its own event or at a trade conference, the influential community members can play a role in shining a spotlight on the event before a captive audience. If the product is truly worthy, industry experts will be delighted to create the buzz. Plus, if they’re involved at an early stage, top influencers can offer actionable feedback. And if there’s a visual aspect, as in the consumer sector, top business users can be tapped to create shareable videos. But keep them short – chances are that you have a mere few seconds to make an impact.

Save the sales pitch for customers

For a product launch, it’s tempting to slip into a commercial mindset that stresses features over function. But in most cases it makes more sense to build coverage by focusing on the bigger picture. The media approach and press materials should talk about the problem that it solves, generating data to make the case. Or the PR strategy may be to tell a story about the motives of the creators, or the obstacles they overcame. That’s likely to be more memorable than acronym-laden features or jargon about how groundbreaking the launch is.

PR takes a running start

We’re big believers in early preparation for any kind of product launch campaign. First, there’s the content factor. Note that any PR or content team needs to build in time to create compelling blog posts, bylines, and videos – all of which incidentally build SEO to support the launch. Media exclusives can only be offered to one reporter at a time, and we can wait days for a decision, especially during busy seasons.

Above all, a product or service launch isn’t a one-day event. Once launch coverage is secured, the story can be told more fully over time – through customer success, market impact, education events, and longer-term influencer programs – and the successful PR has only just begun.

5 Trends Shaping Tech PR In 2018

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

5 tech PR trends

Privacy regulations

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

Big tech’s reputation challenges

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

Data and more data

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

Artificial intelligence

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

On the blockchain gang

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

Where Do You Find Data For PR Storytelling?

Last week’s post covered the trend of data-driven storytelling in PR.

But where does the data come from? For many of our clients we field quarterly surveys designed to generate relevant news or insights. But there are lots of other options for PR pros to source relevant data, and many are inexpensive and fairly easy to find.

Data to power PR storytelling

Social listening sets the stage

Social monitoring and listening not only give us a heads up on customer service issues or negative PR, but they can illuminate industry trends and customer behavior. A PR campaign can include a general theme or direction found in social media data or patterns, or the social data can inform a content calendar. Social listening is also a great method for coming up with fresh ideas that will resonate with a specific target audience.
Surveys are the data gift that keep giving

Polls and surveys are time-honored PR tools for developing campaigns, fine-tuning messaging, and generating earned media and content. The survey possibilities are endless, but here are our favorites.

Omnibus surveys

They’re beloved among PRs because they’re quick and affordable. Unlike custom marketing surveys, they’re administered on behalf of multiple organizations, thus spreading the cost over many sponsors. A good omnibus is a solid way to inform thought leadership content or to grab relevant data to attract media interest. They can also be used like flash polls after a news event. If you’re a cybersecurity firm, a 1000-person survey conducted after a public security breach may show behavior change, persistent sloppy password habits or new attitudes about smart home devices. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely to yield fascinating material for content. Media love poll-results story pitches, especially when accompanied by visuals like infographics. See our earlier post for more on how to make surveys work for PR.

Quality data may already exist

Even a small company may have thousands of marketing contacts collected from CRM, website visits, and social followers. Social platforms like Hootsuite or a marketing one like Hubspot can collect, visualize, and collate data analytics on subscriber demographics, email engagement, website activity, and social engagement. If you do customer satisfaction surveys, you can throw in a question to support a specific storyline or uncover customer concerns useful for PR programming.

Public-domain research is high-quality and often free

A PR pro can find in-depth research online from many government and non-profit sources, all in the public domain. Data.gov, Healthdata.gov, U.S. Census Bureau, and other public agencies routinely produce data analyses and statistics collected over many decades. You can cherry-pick studies from different sources, combine and cross-reference to yield an original piece of secondary research – and a story. For a mattress company, we converted NIH data on how many hours people sleep every night into a branded national index of “most sleep-deprived cities.” Our out-of-pocket cost was $200 for the statistical software that made the calculations.

When all else fails, try a straw poll

They’re unscientific, but they’re cheap and easy. If you’re stuck for byline or blog ideas, you can always ask a handful of peers, customers, or sales reps for feedback on their biggest needs, concerns, or frustrations. The most cost-efficient are online tools like SurveyMonkey and Fieldboom for DIY polling. There are even smartphone apps like Poll Everywhere to facilitate more informal online polls with onsite participants at conferences and panels.

Formal third-party research builds thought leadersip

The high-end method is a partnership with an industry analyst or research firm to create a piece of branded research as a corporate communications centerpiece. We helped a credit-union client with a financial literacy platform team with a trade group to develop a national financial literacy study, white paper, and speaking tour. It’s an expensive proposition, but it can anchor a PR campaign and build credibility over years.

PR On The Small Screen: 5 Great Shows

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

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

Shows that show PR

“Silicon Valley”

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

“Scandal”

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

“UnReal”

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

“Better Call Saul”

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

“Homeland”

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

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