Archive for November, 2008

Giving Thanks & Knocking Wood

IStock_000007059943XSmallThe last couple of months’ of economic challenges notwithstanding, it’s been a great year. 

The Agency has nailed down several contracts with FORTUNE 1000 companies in the Consumer and Pharma industries, and scores of exciting start-ups.  Morale is good.  Most of our clients are happy.  And I can’t remember a time where I’ve felt more confidence in our team’s capabilities and our firm’s overall prospects.  KNOCK WOOD.

The blog has grown more popular.  In the Fall of 2006, there were about 150 RSS subscribers to PR-Squared.  In the Fall of 2007, we had about 1,000 subscribers.  Closing out 2008, looks like RSS subscribers are hovering at over 3,000 most days.  THANK YOU.  I try not to care but I do: keep in mind that I’ve been blogging since June 2004 … so it took me two years to get my first 150 subscribers!  Trust me, I am hugely grateful that you’re here; I die a little inside whenever I lose an RSS subscriber.  Maybe we’ll gain more loyal readers in 2009?  KNOCK WOOD.

I’ve made many new friends this year.  Folks I used to watch and admire from afar have become confidants.  Yes, we’re all too busy to do beers and BBQs together but I genuinely like my industry peers.  (You know who you are.)  Hopefully we’ll have more opportunities to grab coffees, brainstorm, share newbiz leads, etc., in 2009.  KNOCK WOOD.

After 8 years of what felt like a foreign occupation of our seat of government, there are sober, thoughtful, strong people (of both parties) taking the reins of U.S. government.  They are facing down enormous challenges but I have fresh faith in our direction as a people, as a country.  Yes, we can get through our current travails.  KNOCK WOOD.

My family is happy and healthy.  Yea, we’ve got two teenagers in the house and yea, it’s just as challenging as the self-help books and sitcoms suggest — but I’m not complaining.  Our problems are typical problems.  KNOCK WOOD.

I try to keep things simple.  I try to prioritize.  Am I doing the right things for my family, my clients, my team, my friends, my industry?  — Yes?  Good.  Go eat turkey.  Take a nap.  Do it all over again on Monday. 

And keep knocking wood.

I hope that you have also been able to keep things relatively simple; that you are pleased with the allies you’ve made and the contributions you’ve shared.  Thanks so much for your support.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

More on the Menace of Marketing Measurement

IStock_000001689949XSmallMarketing measurement guru Katie Paine pointed to a recent blog post of mine re: Social Media Measurement ROI in her most recent newsletter article

I am always honored when I merit Katie’s attention — but, darn it! — I think she called me (and my ilk) a “menace” because I seemed to hem-and-haw about the ability to measure Social Media Marketing. 

Seriously, though, I have been an advocate for measurement for a long time — and even went to considerable expense to try to figure it out for clients.  So this paragraph in Katie’s newsletter caught my attention:

KD_Paine“Another popular reason that PR/SM ‘can’t be measured’ is that, ‘You can’t isolate PR from everything else the organization is doing!’ But yes, in fact, you can. It might take some coordination with advertising, or some sophisticated ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) but it can be done, and is being done every day. (Measurement is) hard … particularly for the math-phobic PR folks. It requires calculations and analytics and a bunch of things that PR people hate.”

As I noted to Katie in a follow-up email, the big challenge is not just the math-phobia of marketers.  The bigger challenges relate to the time; the expense; the lack of agreed-to approaches and relevant metrics (as in “what’s relevant?”); and, the potential need to collaborate at both a strategy and a systems-level with external agencies, as well as with other internal departments like Sales and Finance. 

Phew!  Say that 5x fast.

Measurement is GOOD but arguably too hard to countenance, especially when the anecdotal benefits of PR and Social Media (e.g., “website traffic spiked after that NYT hit!”) are often “good enough” to keep the engine running. 

I strongly believe that corporations who do spend the time/resources to “figure it out” would find that PR/SM’s benefits outstripped any other marketing program – which is why I am a big fan of Marketing Measurement.  Yet, it is hard to find companies willing and able to do the hard work (especially among startups, but even amongst our FORTUNE 500 clients).

Hope that clarifies my stance for Katie.  I am NOT anti-measurement, NOT a non-believing menace; just a rueful pragmatist (who is also, yes, admittedly, bad at math).

Expectation-Setting Challenges in PR

IStock_000005705282XSmallWhen gearing up to help a client with a big announcement, we pump ourselves up at the Agency.  We’re optimistic.  We know we’ve got the chops, the creativity, the connections.  We’ll make something good happen!

But with clients, we play the pessimist card.  For as much as we feel an underlying confidence in our powers, we also know how hard this job can be; we know how fickle are the Fates.  So before any big announcement, we make it a point to tell clients about all the factors that could possibly screw up their odds at coverage …

And yet … the “expectation setting” game is still tricky. 

Sometimes luck and hard-work pay off, and we wind up scoring big.  Sometimes we’re spot-on about the challenges, and the client news receives paltry coverage.  Sometimes we simply strike out.  No one bats 1.000.

The “problem” is that most often, we score.  And that sets a bar that subsequent “expectation setting” conversations can’t dislodge.  We become the lady that doth protest too much; the boy who cries wolf. 

After we moan about the PR challenges of the client’s latest product launch plan, they start to say, “Yea, yea, I know it’s a bad idea to launch this product at a busy tradeshow, on a Friday evening, with no spokespeople available — but you guys will pull it off.” 

And, thus hogtied, we screw the pooch.

Great media coverage requires careful planning.  It requires spadework in the form of dozens of pitches customized for individual reporters and bloggers, and a careful logistical dance in setting up appointments.  You can’t dump a press release on your PR agency a day or two before it’s scheduled to go live, and also expect them to shoot the moon.

Call this whining if you want: it’s an age-old complaint in the PR game.  But maybe I can convince at least one marketer to take a breath before making unreasonable demands. 

It’s not an unreasonable demand to expect great media coverage.  It’s simply unreasonable to make that demand without truly listening to your PR counsel’s expert advice on how-to make it happen.

PR Helps Raise Venture Capital

IStock_000005857420XSmallWanna talk (yet again) about the ROI of Social Media & PR?

Let’s ask the startup companies who rely on the VC community’s support.  Did PR help them net funding?

A survey sponsored by BIGfrontier Communications Group asked 300 U.S. startups that had received funding within the past 3 years about the role of PR in their fund-raising efforts.

According to a PRWeek story that ran today, the new study showed that:

  • Startup companies that engage in PR campaigns are 30% more successful in getting funding within one to three months than those that don’t.
  • Forty-four percent of the respondents who used PR outreach received funding in the one-to-three-month time period versus 14% of those that did not.
  • Seventy-eight percent of respondents who said PR helped in their funding efforts are planning to use some of their VC dollars for additional PR.
  • Ironically, the survey also found that only 18% of the 300 startups surveyed had a PR program in place during the funding process.

Of the 82% of startups who did not avail themselves of PR assistance, BIGFrontier’s Steve Lundin noted, “They don’t understand that had they spent money on PR services, they would shorten the funding cycle … When you’re able to walk into a room and someone has heard of your company, (there is a much greater) sense of validation … than walking into a room cold.”

IStock_000006944069XSmallI’ve often made a similar claim to clients, citing anecodtal evidence that PR helps raise valuations, whether in fund-raising or for exit strategies … And on the latter front, I’ve even seen clients’ competitors snap them up just to get the PR engine turned off!

And in these recessionary times, as many smart business people consistently note, “getting the word out” is expecially critical for startups.  As VC Fred Wilson tweeted today: There’s no blanket wisdom for entrepreneurs raising money right now. It’s a mixed bag VC market. Strong deals getting done.”  

One measure of “a strong deal?”  A strong reputation.  Just as the BIGFrontier study implies.

It’s nice to see some evidence and ackowledgement for that fact, directly from startup executives themselves.

What is Techmeme Telling Us?

BoyA lot of PR people I know – particularly those affiliated with the tech and social media industries – make frequent daily visits to Techmeme.  What is Techmeme?  Here’s their “ABOUT TECHMEME” blurb:

“At this moment, the hottest stories in technology are scattered across dozens of news sites and blogs.  That’s an awful lot of sites for anyone to check.  Fortunately, Techmeme arranges all of these links into a single, easy-to-scan page. It’s auto-generated through a news-picking software system, so updates occur around the clock.”

In a recent email to his subscribers, the ever-helpful, often-brilliant Sam Whitmore of Mediasurvey performed an analysis of the changes that occured over the past year at Techmeme’s Leaderboard, the meme minder’s top 100 sources.  Sam analyzed snapshots of the Leaderboard on October 1, 2007 versus October 1, 2008.  Here’s a look at the Top 10:

1. TechCrunch (still at the top)
2. CNET News (up from 5th)
3. Silicon Alley Insider (up from 13th)
4. VentureBeat (up from 25th)
5. New York Times (down from 3rd)
6. Ars Technica (down from 4th)
7. AppleInsider (up from 49th)
8. Gizmodo (up from 15th)
9. Wall Street Journal (up from 10th)
10. ReadWriteWeb (down from 6th)

Other notable entries would include InfoWorld at #36 in 2008, down from #11 in 2007; BusinessWeek’s drop from 28th position to #48; and Computerworld’s drop from the Top 20 on the Leaderboard to #34 as of October 2008.

If you believe that Techmeme presents a reasonable view as to hot trends in technology reporting online, there are some interesting takeaways from Sam’s research. 

Most notably: from a media coverage standpoint, it’s a good time to be affiliated with gadgets, content, Web 2.0 apps and (no surprise) economic trends and venture capital.  The precipitous Leaderboard drops for publications like Computerworld and InfoWorld, in particular, suggest that “B2B Tech” is of little interest of late.

Partly this may be because the “cool stuff” is making inroads into the enterprise.  Partly this may be because the recessionary trends were already underway by October ‘08, making enterprise technology less interesting to budget-conscious buyers.  And partly this may be because the world of tech/social media has broadened considerably in the past year: it’s not just for geeks anymore.

There’s one key takeaway that all PR pros should understand: Sam Whitmore is a guy worth the subscription price.

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