Surviving Conference Season: How to Thrive Via Digital AR

Digital Board
Credit: ilker, FreeImages

Every summer the conference season kicks off here in San Francisco, prompting many tech communications teams to ramp into overdrive. There are many large conferences every year – prominent examples in the second half of the year being VMworld, Oracle OpenWorld and Dreamforce. It’s a busy time for communications teams.

Digital communications strategies are (rightly) an expected component when it comes to planning communications for an event. Analyst Relations teams have historically been somewhat conflicted about the use of digital within AR events. This is for many reasons, but the main one is cultural: integrating digital into an AR event strategy can feel a little counter-intuitive for AR specialists. This is because much of the critical value analysts provide – candid insights, often confidential – takes place in behind-the-scenes conversations via inquiry calls, in-person meetings and strategic advisory sessions. Nonetheless, analysts are active on online channels and a digital strategy should be something that an AR team considers when planning an event.

Many of the strategies and tactics used by PR and social media teams are very transferable to digital AR plans for events. However, there are some clear differences that need to be considered first in order to run a first-class digital strategy. When planning, the below are essential ‘to dos’:

  • Matrix Participating Analysts: While many analysts are active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – some may be more active on a specific channel than others. Levels of social participation can also vary greatly from firm to firm and from analyst to analyst. If you have key analysts that have yet to catch the social media bug, then set expectations accordingly with your execs. Alternatively, if you know the majority of your key analysts prefer LinkedIn to Twitter, then factor that into the kinds of digital content you prep for your event. Prioritize activity around the analysts who are not only active on social media, but who base their business models and marketing strategies on being seen and heard on digital channels.
  • Assume Nothing, Ask Smart Questions: When prepping digital content, there’s no better way to plan for an analyst event than to actually ask analysts what they want to hear, what worked well last time and then follow their advice.Run a pre-event audit of your analysts – make sure you have the right execs, right customers and right content onsite to meet their research needs. Leverage inquiry access – either your own, or your PR agency’s – to speak with analysts and ensure that you’ve bullet proofed your agenda, topics and digital assets.There’s no better way to get analysts sharing and commenting on digital content than to ensure the topics discussed on the day interest them professionally.
  • Absolute Clarity on Sharable vs. Confidential Info: We’ve all heard the odd horror story about an analyst tweeting out confidential information – usually roadmap details or confidential customer info. It’s an AR pros worst nightmare. There’s no magic bullet here, but comms teams must cover all possible scenarios. Be clear on what’s sharable, and what absolutely needs to stay under NDA. Be sure to reference this clearly on slides and materials and always verbally re-emphasize what’s under NDA.Make sure attending analysts know they have to be on their very best digital behavior.
  • Thoughtful Content and Discussions Generate Online Commentary: This one sounds pretty obvious, but vendors sometimes become so over focused on their own product specific message, that they can accidentally side-step some really interesting industry centric discussions. Make sure you ask the analysts smart questions on what they’re seeing and hearing – and what their customers ask them about. Be sure to also give them relevant data points and graphics that they can share online with their followers. Remember that analysts care most about:
    • Solving the problems that their end user clients are dealing with
    • Successfully predicting trends and demystifying technologies
    • Level setting industry hype, with their own perspective

Digital content that addresses these areas will be intellectually compelling and highly sharable.

Are you running an industry analyst event for the first time this year? Not sure on where to start when executing your digital AR program? Feel free to email me at tris.clark@blancandotus.com

Animals: the Peanut Butter to Marketing’s Jelly

Case in point: You saw these cute pets; you clicked on the post. (Credit: Thinkstock)
Case in point: You saw these cute pets; you clicked on the post. (Credit: Thinkstock)

In today’s marketing arena it isn’t unusual to see animals taking on roles as brand ambassadors. Some may even argue that it is more common to see animals acting as humans in commercials than their usual selves. It seems like the goal of many brands today is to capture consumers’ attention by making them say “aww.”

Many brands like Twitter (bird), MGM (lion), Meerkat (um, meerkat) and Disney (mouse) use animals as their logo, while the likes of Geico, Aflac and Bush’s Baked Beans use animals as their “spokesanimals” or brand ambassadors. Why? Because animals have the ability to tap into consumers’ emotions, and it makes them more inclined to pay attention to a brand’s message that might otherwise be unrelated to them.

Aflac’s duck is a great example of this. Even as a child, before I ever thought about or needing any type of personal insurance, I could identify the duck with the brand and what it offers. The same can be said for Geico’s gecko or its “hump day” camels (clearly insurance companies are on the animal bandwagon). These brands have mastered the art of catching people’s attention through association with our four-legged, two-legged, or no-legged friends.

Brands have also started going beyond simply using animals as their logos and voice. Many companies are now creating advertisements and commercials completely unrelated to their products to catch viewers’ attention. Most notable is Budweiser and its use of the Clydesdale horse in its recent Super Bowl commercials. The ads had virtually nothing to do with beer yet almost everyone I know can easily associate them with Budweiser due to the feelings they evoked in them. The emotional attraction people feel toward animals makes them far more likely to take notice of brands that utilize furry friends to sell their product.

Also, marketing videos become more captivating when they are viewed as stories rather than simple ads. Think about how Friskies’ “Dear Kitten” video series has gone viral and been shared all over the Internet. Animal videos have led to their own online video genre, and they have led the way for viral social media campaigns and prominent memes – Grumpy Cat, anyone?

So, next time you’re thinking about a new marketing campaign, don’t rule out the use of animals – clearly us humans can’t get enough of them.

The New Rules of News and Content Values

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The line between news and content is rapidly blurring. As many BuzzFeed readers will attest, it’s no longer strange to see an article on Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning beside a list of 22 (very important) questions Muggles have for wizards.

An increasingly social and searchable web mixed with commercial pressures has seen online news publications with softer, more positive and humorous voices emerge. At the same time, brands now have the ability to complement media relations programs with content published on owned channels, making brand stories and content more discoverable and shareable that ever before.

As media look beyond traditional news values the amount of news articles featuring cat exploits and brands celebrating 4/20 will only increase. However, the craft of storytelling, journalistic inquiry and understanding of traditional news values remains an important core competency for the modern PR practitioner.

News values, as articulated by Galtung and Ruge (G&R), continue to form the backbone by which media judge the newsworthiness of a story, and should continue to be factored in when developing angles, pitches and media materials. This criteria is also great for keeping corporate blogs grounded, engaging and relevant – lest they become the home of shallow self-promotional waffle and puff pieces.

So if you’re producing content for a brand’s blog or developing a pitch for media, here are some of the modern news/content values you might what to consider:

  • Frequency: An event that occurs suddenly and fits neatly within the content schedule (think Haley’s comet) is more likely to be selected than a one that takes place over a long period of time – sorry, evolution. When it comes to your content calendar, don’t linger too long on a topic.
  • Threshold: According to G&R, events have to pass a threshold before they are news/content worthy – the greater the intensity (the bigger the acquisition or the greater Grumpy Cat’s book deal), the greater the impact.
  • Proximity: How close events are to an audience will have an impact. The smaller the intensity of the story, the closer the news has to be to the audience. From a content perspective, remember where your primary audience is located.
  • Unambiguity/Simplicity: The more clearly a story can be understood and interpreted without multiple meanings, the better. When it comes to content, you are always going to be able to say more, but is it really necessary?
  • Meaningfulness/Familiarity: News/content should be culturally familiar – be kind and keep your audience in mind.
  • Consonance/Predictability: Does the story align with media’s experience? If there are predictable elements they’ll be more prepared to cover the story. Similarly, what stories/content is your team in a good position to tell?
  • Unexpectedness/Unusualness: Unexpected, rare or unusual events/stories are more likely to pique media interest. At the same time, these stories make great blog click bait. Just kidding, but seriously.
  • Continuity: A story already in the news has a good chance of remaining in the news (even if its impact has been reduced) because it has become familiar and easier to interpret. A blog post on a hot topic is a great way to get a brand involved in a conversation where they may have expertise.
  • Composition: Editors often look to find balance – they don’t want too many Apple Watch follow-up stories. In the same vein, your brand’s blog should be mixing it up and adding some content diversity. Variety is the spice of life.
  • Reference to elite nations/people/companies: G&R are talking hard news so references to global superpowers will increase the newsworthiness of the story. From a PR perspective, the same could be said in terms of referencing elite companies. Is there a partnership with a large company you can mention to make your brand more interesting? How many blog posts can you name-drop Apple in?
  • Reference to persons: According to G&R, the best stories are presented in terms of individual people rather than abstractions. Bill Rundle agrees with this statement. Quote and profile customers and partners on your blog, and attribute posts to actual people.
  • Conflict/Negativity: Bad events are generally unambiguous and newsworthy, and opposition or viewpoints that conflict are more likely to hold the media’s ear. Similarly, a blog post with a contrarian perspective will often find favor with like-minded people.
  • Exclusivity/Niche-knowledge: Content that helps solve specific problems in an area that doesn’t receive much media coverage can quickly find an audience and drive search traffic to your blog/website. These posts can also build credibility and position a subject matter expert as an essential source of commentary.
  • Humor/Quirkiness: Newer digital publications are increasingly including funny and quirky stories, which often get widely shared on social channels. When it comes to owned channels, even corporations are allowed a sense of humor.
  • Kids/Animals: ‘Never work with kids and animals’ has become ‘Always work with kids and animals.’ The Internet loves this stuff; give it what it wants. What’s your misbehaving Llama strategy?

This list is by no means exhaustive, and every news publication and blog will give each of these a different weighting depending on the audience. We’re curious to hear from other PR pros and journalists – what are some other modern news / content values? Tweet us @BlancandOtus.

The Butterfly Effect in the Digital Age

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The butterfly effect. Yes, it’s a movie starring Ashton Kutcher but what I’m really talking about is how a single action, no matter how small, can have larger, more drastic (even detrimental) effects on a bigger event. One commonly used example: a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, dramatically altering the course of a tornado in Texas.

Today, a number of small events have generated larger-than-expected outcomes, primarily because of the Internet. The Internet is the ultimate catalyst for this phenomenon, which we’ve now seen play out in the media over and over again. Events that may have flown under the radar in the past are now center stage.

Why has this changed? Platforms like blogs and social media give people a stage to speak their voice and bring national attention to small, localized occurrences. What was once a single, forgettable event can now blow up in your face or become an instant hit overnight. Take these, for instance:

Alaska Airlines’ ‘No Note to Fly’ Fiasco

Alaska Airlines recently booted a woman off a plane traveling from Hawaii to California because she had cancer and appeared ill, but didn’t have a note from her doctor allowing her to fly. Seriously? In their defense, they were following a (probably flawed) protocol and probably didn’t realize how this small event would blow up and get national attention. But it did, and the brand paid the price for what happened on one of its many flights on a global scale. Alaska Airlines was quick to issue an apology and offer a full refund, but the damage was done. The woman missed a chemotherapy appointment and the airline’s reputation was tarnished.

In this case, the butterfly effect triggered a negative outcome, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

The Blue Dress Incident, and it’s not Lewinsky’s

You may remember the hullabaloo last month over the questionable color of a dress. After the image hit Tumblr, the debate over the dress’ real color exploded all over the Internet. It was covered by numerous leading news sites, and even celebrities joined the online debate. Is it black and blue, or white and gold? Seriously, who cares? Apparently, everyone and their mothers.

This is a perfect example of how one small thing – in this case, an oversaturated photograph of a striped dress – can get national attention. Not your usual example of the butterfly effect, but nonetheless an example of a small event exploding into absurd proportions and becoming a bigger issue than expected.

Good or bad – we see the butterfly effect phenomenon play out in the media on a daily basis. One thing is certain though, hope that your brand doesn’t find itself in a situation like that of Alaska Airlines.

#PRmyths – Goodbye “IT Decision Makers.” Hello Reality

Interchangeable IT decision makers. (Thinkstock)
Interchangeable IT decision makers. (Thinkstock)

What do the CIO, CFO and CMO have in common?

It sounds like an opening to a good joke, but the only really funny thing is that they are so often grouped together. Yes, they all have fancy jobs titles, lots of direct reports, huge business responsibilities and the proverbial “seat at the table,” but they also have vastly different challenges and priorities. But as conventional thinking goes, that should not stop you, the B2B tech PR pro, from grouping them together with anyone and everyone that could buy technology into a neat little group of “IT decision makers.”

From a communications standpoint, this is of course complete crazy talk as the differences are what matter. They are the things that allow us to tap into what these distinct audiences really care about and create content that will have impact. And importantly, they help us shift communications from broad-brush strokes to personalized conversations defined by the new era of social, mobile and other digital technologies.

So next time someone says the target audience is the “C-Suite”, “IT Decision Makers” or any other broad brush grouping, remember that those descriptors are about as useful as the term EMEA from audience segmentation and targeting standpoint. Instead, step back, think carefully about the specific person you want to reach – where they live, what they care about, how old they are, what they are passionate about, what makes them laugh, where they go to get information, etc. – and you’ll be surprised by the difference that will make.

#PRmyths – “Get Us in the Wall Street Journal!”

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The media landscape is changing. This is not breaking news: anyone who works in the PR or media industry knows this. But while this is true, and as we move towards a world in which businesses of all types and sizes are becoming their own publisher, certain habits die hard – habits like considering a cover story in The Wall Street Journal to be the ultimate PR accomplishment.

It’s easy to understand how that habit formed: many top-level executives read The Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, and therefore they want their PR departments (and the agencies they work with) to land that prized coverage. As a result, PR pros have been conditioned to put marquee business press coverage on a pedestal. And look, this can be warranted! Perhaps your clients’ prospective customers are just like your clients’ CEOs and do read the WSJ every day – in which case coverage in the Journal is PR gold. But the likelihood is that just like most of us, the folks your clients are trying to reach are consuming content and information that influences their buying decisions in a huge variety of ways – including through social media.

Want evidence of how the landscape has changed? As of October 2014, The Wall Street Journal had a daily circulation of almost 2.3 million readers. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed draws 200 million readers each month, and 18.5 billion impressions through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Turns out that many people would prefer to debate the color of a dress than dissect the growth potential of tech companies – and you and your clients need to adapt accordingly.

Again, a marquee piece of business press coverage can be hugely valuable, but if you’re not questioning why it might not be the best fit for your clients’ needs, you haven’t adjusted to the new media landscape – and might be leaving some huge PR opportunities on the table.

#PRmyths – A Good Story Will Sell Itself

What’s the first thing you do when you receive a piece of information that really interests you? Share it, right?

What about information that, albeit interesting, just isn’t in your wheelhouse? DELETE.

Knowing this, why do so many PR people not take the time to carefully research and target the right audiences for their stories?

While the old adage of a “good story sells itself” exists, it certainly doesn’t ring true in a digital world. A good story is fantastic – a PR person’s dream in fact – but it will only be amplified when it reaches the right targets. Ones who will care and then share (and share, and hopefully share some more).

Reach the wrong audience and … crickets.

The lesson here: don’t let a good story fall on deaf ears. Do your homework, find the right people to tell it to and watch your story spread like wildfire.

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#PRmyths – The Right Way to Pitch and Follow Up

The first rule of how to pitch: there are no rules. There are suggestions for a course of action, but observing them as a sort of public relations 10 commandments and ignoring both direct signals and the advent of modern technology is a surefire way to fail. Some sweet, blessed times, all it really takes is a simple email out of the blue. Frequently, it does not.

After that, the suggested course of action in this PR-choose-your-own-adventure is “call-down” to “follow-up” (yay, prepositions!). “Follow-up” is really just an extremely abstract, loose concept defined more by its outcome then its action (in other words, the act of following up means little to anyone compared to the outcome of getting a result). Sure, sometimes a call to a reporter is a quick, efficient way to get their attention and hook them with your angle. Other times, you’ll take a cursory glance at a reporter’s Twitter before said call and find something like this:

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Then it is time to stop and think before dialing, my friends. What is our goal? Results and happy media contacts, and the above are pretty clear indicators that this is not the way to get them.

That does not, however, mean to give up. Poke around, do your research and go with your gut.

For example, we’ve found the best way to get many reporters’ attention these days is a DM:

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And Snapchat is no longer just for selfies with your roommates:

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Sometimes, they even give you your own hotline:

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One reporter even mentioned that his favorite pitch of all time was texted to him in verse. (Note: we don’t personally recommend this unless you’re feeling particularly confident in your rhyming chops and the receiving reporter’s appreciation for you artistic efforts.)

Moral of the story? Media relations is not ‘one channel fits all.’ Remember that you’re trying to reach a fellow human being. Do your research, think, and be creative.

Check back tomorrow as we examine another PR industry myth. Screenshot credit: Twitter, obviously

#PRmyths – It’s All About Media Relations

2005: Media! Media! Media!

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Ten years ago, PR and media relations may have been close to synonymous, but the role of a PR professional has evolved extensively. We’ve moved beyond the focus on media to assume a more strategic role at the heart of all communications.

2015: PR as a strategic marketing partner

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If your PR plan doesn’t have a media, social and content play, then it’s missing some critical components. Each of these should tie into each other. We are constantly working to guide our clients to create compelling content that can then be used for media and social. These areas of communications should no longer be operating in silos.

Check back every day this week for another PR myth debunked, and chime in on Twitter with the hashtags #PRmyths and #TheNewNorm.

Your Brand Is Probably Not Bae

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Thinkstock

If you’re a social media-obsessed public relations professional like me, you may have noticed a certain “ep-bae-demic” spreading across brands’ social media conversations over the past several months.

In the midst of developing an identity on social media, several brands – many in the food and restaurant industry – have chosen to adopt a voice that resonates, or should I say “seeks to resonate,” with a much younger audience.

Introducing “bae”: A common term among millennials that often refers to one’s boyfriend or girlfriend. For example, “Can’t wait to come home and curl up with #bae (insert long list of lovey-dovey emojiis).” Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal also adds the following definition: “Bae can be aspirational – someone of romantic interest. The term has also inevitably evolved to apply to inanimate objects. On Instagram, a particularly mouthwatering plate of BBQ could be #bae, for example.” Among brands tweeting the #bae hashtag are Taco Bell, Burger King, Chili’s, Applebee’s, IHOP, Jimmy John’s, Mountain Dew, Walmart and Gain. (To see more brands that have been caught in the act, check out the “Brands Saying Bae” Twitter account.)

In an effort to sound “less corporate” and more like the 14-year-old kid next door, brands are aging down their social conversation to better connect with their younger audiences. The real question though, as discussed in a recent article in Digiday, is “whether it makes sense for brands to go down that road – and at what point they begin to risk looking ridiculous.”

The article suggests that brands that age down their language by adding in terms like “bae” and “on fleek” are struggling to connect with their audience in a meaningful way. This is because brands that don’t understand their audience enough to develop a natural connection find it easier to mask their message in more youthful terms. (“On fleek,” for the record, is defined as being “on point.”)

The key to creating an engaging and meaningful relationship is understanding the audience, and using the right language is one way for a brand to show it understands its audience. Brands such as Taco Bell and Mountain Dew might find it more beneficial to use this type of language because of their youthful following. However, brands such as Walmart and Gain, with an audience of predominately women and mothers, might want to think twice before tweeting their “bae.”