How to Secure Coverage for Your Startup Client

"I can't believe no one wrote about this. *refreshes Google News*" (Thinkstock Photos)
“I can’t believe no one wrote about this. *refreshes Google News*” (Thinkstock Photos)

These days, the world of business-to-business (B2B) tech is saturated with new companies on a daily basis – meaning that media coverage is no longer guaranteed for every funding round, partnership announcement or executive Q&A. But if you follow these guidelines, your chances are bound to improve:

  • Pin down positioning. In B2B tech PR, it can be difficult to secure your startup client coverage when there’s no hard news or innovative, disruptive, world-changing product announcement, so that’s where positioning comes in. A relatively new startup has to have some sort of quantitative or qualitative edge. When positioning them in the media, it proves more fruitful to discuss the hard facts about what the company is doing rather than trying to convince reporters your client is an innovative disruptor. Empty buzzwords will make their eyes will glaze over (and shift their attention to a startup another PR agency is pitching).
  • Manage client expectations. This is an important one. Managing your client’s expectations is key when trying to secure them coverage. Building a relationship with media takes time, but unsurprisingly your client will want tier-one business press coverage now…and again next month. Assure them that when getting their feet wet in the fickle world of tech reporting, going for trade publications first can be an effective way to reach a target audience. That way, when working your way up to higher tier, more coveted coverage there will be examples to share with reporters and show that your client has established itself in the media.
  • Jump on trends. Asserting your client into the conversation and positioning them as a thought leader on their subject matter is another good way to ensure they get coverage. Stay up to date on what’s happening in key industries by following the right influencers on Twitter and bookmarking the appropriate target publications. Newsletter services like HARO and ProfNet that connect reporters with potential sources are also effective ways to keep up with and comment on trends. Browsing every HARO and ProfNet posting and acting quickly to pitch relevant opportunities have produced effective, quick and easy wins on many occasions.
  • Use your connections. Don’t have any? Make them! One thing that we may all forget sometimes is that it’s not the outlets that write stories – it’s individual writers that do. Get to know the reporters you target for stories on social media, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or personal blogs. By connecting and interacting with them it makes it that much more likely they’ll open your email pitch if they recognize your client’s name or yours. In other words, be a good PR person and do some research (but be cool about it – see next point).
  • Don’t be a pest. As we’ve discussed in a recent blog post on PR myths, there is a right way and a wrong way to pitch and follow up with reporters you are trying to get to cover your client. Although the format of a pitch, length, style, etc. are all subjective and depend on the pitcher and pitched, one thing is for sure and it’s that reporters do NOT enjoy bothersome “call-downs.” Sure, a quick call after an email may be a very efficient way of getting a reporter’s attention, but just use your best judgment and don’t risk having all your future pitches flagged immediately as spam. Similarly, don’t spam or stalk reporters too rigorously on social media – striking a balance is key.

So, what do you think? If you have comments, concerns or questions about PR for your own startup, feel free to drop me a line.

Life and Career Lessons from … March Madness?!

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

North Carolina State stunning Houston in the 1983 championship game (and beating future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the process). Villanova downing defending champions Georgetown in the 1985 championship game (denying another future Hall of Famer, Patrick Ewing, of a second title). Connecticut, just last year, ascending from a #7 seed and subsequent long odds to upend Kentucky and win it all. Anywhere you look, the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament – more commonly known as March Madness – produces amazing upsets like few other sporting competitions across the world.

As PR professionals, we can learn a lot from March Madness and the crazy twists and turns it takes each year – lessons that we can apply to both our careers and our lives outside of the office. Such as:

  • Prepare for the Unexpected: We mentioned just three of the upsets that have taken place in the NCAA Tournament throughout its history, but there have been so many more (my busted brackets accumulated over the years can confirm that). And we’re guessing that as a PR professional, you’ve run out of fingers and toes counting the surprises you’ve encountered during your career – be it a New York Times editor suddenly calling you out of the blue to discuss a pitch you didn’t think they had the time to read, or an industry-changing piece of news turning your week upside-down. While you can’t know what’s around the corner, simply knowing that anything can happen is all the preparation you need.
  • Take a Break to Enjoy Yourself: It’s such an old and tired cliché, but it applies here – “PR isn’t ER,” and any job that doesn’t involve saving lives should probably not be treated with a constant, manic level of urgency. It’s not only okay to take a breath to get away and immerse yourself in something completely unrelated to work, but it might be good for your health and your level of focus.
  • Live in the Moment: The NCAA Tournament produces a wealth of memorable moments each year; heck, there was a song written about the tournament called “One Shining Moment.” Countless athletes and coaches who have won the national title talk about how they “lived in the moment”: essentially, intensely focusing on what is needed to be accomplished while also taking the time to enjoy the experience. Your job should ultimately be enjoyable and rewarding, so make sure to savor those moments when you land a huge media hit or the event you ran turned out to be a huge success.

As a huge sports fan I’m biased on this topic, but I truly believe that there’s a lot to learn from sports outside of the final score of a game or how Team X matches up against Team Y. And I guarantee you that all you need to do is watch some of these March Madness games to understand what the tournament – and your career and your life – should be: enjoyable.

Socially Acceptable: Disclosure on Social Media

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Thinkstock

I’ve previously discussed the importance of disclosure – that is, making it clear as a day if compensation of any kind occurred for a piece of content, per Federal Trade Commission guidelines. In that post, I noted the FTC’s requirement to disclose within any social post if the content that is linked to is sponsored.

Well recently, the FTC exercised this mandate, settling charges with Deutsch LA for what the FTC deemed deceptive Twitter promotion. The notion that the FTC won’t actually monitor agencies’ social media activity as it relates to clients can officially be put to rest with this important wake up call.

Maybe you’re thinking the agency in question engaged in outrageous practices to mislead consumers. Well, you’d be wrong – the firm simply promoted a campaign for PlayStation (one of its clients) from employees’ personal handles, without disclosing PlayStation as a client. Did agency employees link to sponsored content they should have noted was paid for? Nope. Individuals were simply asked, not told, to tweet positive endorsements of a product while using a specific hashtag.

This isn’t meant to call out a specific agency and its campaign. This really could have been any number of agencies in an effort to build awareness for clients. Most, if not all, agencies only have one goal in mind: to do the best work they can for their clients. But in doing so, it’s easy to forget that while the client effectively operates as the agency’s “customer,” agencies must always keep their client’s customers in mind.

At Blanc & Otus, we have a long-standing policy in place that requires our team to call out whether a company is a client in promotional social posts. However, the rules are constantly changing and this is a great lesson as much as a cautionary tale. Disclosure can’t just occur via the agency social feeds – it extends to every employee of that agency, even those who may not work on or have anything to do with the specific account. Agencies should also take the measures needed to educate their employees on various disclosure mandates. For instance, this case was unrelated to disclosure of sponsored content, just content related to clients.

One easy quick fix to appease FTC regulators: simply add a #client or #ad hashtag to your post. I hope this helps and if you work in PR, communications or any other area where this might apply, feel free to get in touch with me with any questions at ndesai@blancandotus.com.

LeBron: A Lesson in Reshaping Perception

What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison
What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison

Let us take you back to early 2003.

LeBron James, the most hyped high school basketball player of all time and the supposed next Michael Jordan – which is one of the most misused pieces of acclaim for any basketball player who shows any flash of brilliance – was in his senior year and the undisputed #1 pick in that year’s talent-rich NBA draft. True to the ideal narrative, LeBron, raised in Akron, Ohio, was taken with the #1 pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In his seven years with the Cavaliers, LeBron made all the right moves (short of winning a championship). To the NBA, its fans and the media, LeBron was an uber-talented player who had deftly and maturely handled an enormous amount of pressure since entering the league. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

And then, in 2010, came “The Decision.”

The main storyline of the 2009-2010 NBA season wasn’t the actual games, but LeBron’s impending free agency. The bottom line was that there were only a few teams that had the financial flexibility to sign LeBron to a full-term, high-paying contract, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. On the evening of July 8, 2010, LeBron was the star of a bloated, self-indulgent television special on ESPN that was held solely for LeBron to announce which team he had chosen. The now-iconic line uttered by LeBron at the climax of the show: “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” Miami it was.

The backlash was immediate.

Back in Cleveland, LeBron’s former fans burned his jerseys in the street, and the owner of the Cavaliers wrote a scathing screed against LeBron (that might’ve held some weight if it hadn’t been written in Comic Sans font). Everyone who wasn’t a Heat fan was sour on the fact that he was teaming up with fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a “super team.” The result was that LeBron was public enemy number one to everyone but Miami fans, and the crassness of “The Decision” had a lot to do with it. Public perception: overwhelmingly negative.

As LeBron won two championships in Miami, the majority of the public began to somewhat warm back up to him: chalk it up to the adage that time heals all, or most, wounds. Cleveland also positioned itself perfectly to potentially sign LeBron to a maximum contract and bring him home in the 2014 offseason, when LeBron was once again (and maybe for the last time) a free agent, and this became more of a reality when LeBron’s Heat team got thoroughly outplayed in the 2014 NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. The best player on the planet surveyed his surroundings, perhaps realizing that his current super team wasn’t so super, and disappeared for a few weeks to make one of the most crucial decisions of his life.

Then came the bombshell.

On July 11, 2014, LeBron revealed in a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he had decided to return to the Cavaliers. His announcement was in stark contrast to The Decision: his essay was genuine, heartfelt, and devoid of fanfare. Here was a player who wanted to return to his roots and deliver his hometown team something they’d never had: a championship. THIS decision – probably owing largely to how it was communicated – was roundly applauded by fans and the media. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

In life, and especially in the sports world, people tend to get second chances. You need to look no further than the NFL’s Michael Vick for a prime example. But LeBron’s case was unique in that he never really did anything wrong – at least, nothing that brought real harm to anyone or justified any legal action against him – but he toyed with a few of the emotions that are most sacred to sports fans: loyalty (leaving Cleveland in such a cold manner) and humility (doing so during a national TV show). In returning to Cleveland, however, LeBron orchestrated one of the most profound and immediate reputation makeovers in the recent public consciousness. He let us know that he had unfinished business in Cleveland and that delivering a title would be one of his greatest accomplishments, and we knew he had the wisdom afforded by experience to mean what he said. But undoubtedly most importantly for LeBron, he was making a decision that was completely true to himself – and at that point, public perception be damned.

A Case Study in Bad PR: The NFL

Ron Almog/Wikimedia Commons
Ron Almog/Wikimedia Commons

We believe in the power of PR. Whether it’s to communicate a brand’s vision, increase engagement with customers or get the word out about a new product, PR can have all sorts of positive effects on a business. And while fundamental changes in the media landscape and skyrocketing consumer expectations are increasing corporate accountability and transparency – and in the process putting PR front and center – one of the largest and most popular organizations in the United States appears to be ignoring every possible best practice.

Are you ready for some football?

We are of course talking about the National Football League (NFL). From extreme player controversy to inadequate safety practices (and that’s being polite), the NFL has had more than its share of PR mishaps lately. For example, earlier this year Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice was caught on camera dragging his fiancée out of a Las Vegas elevator after knocking her unconscious. Both the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL took some highly questionable steps following the incident, including the Ravens holding a press conference with both Rice and his fiancée-turned-wife, during which Rice delivered an unbelievably insensitive line about how he was handling the situation: “Sometimes in life, you will get knocked down.” Keep in mind, he was talking about himself, but the irony of his victimized wife sitting next to him during this was overwhelming. Of course, it’s unlikely that the Ravens gave that to Rice as a “key soundbite,” but what kind of reasoning led them to believe that a press conference of that nature was a good idea?

Enter the NFL, which had the opportunity to take a strong stance against domestic violence by throwing the book at Rice and suspending him for an extended period of time – say, the entire season, which is the punishment the NFL just gave another player for smoking marijuana. The NFL’s decision? A puny two-game suspension. The public outcry to the NFL’s decision was justifiably swift and far-reaching, and the NFL soon realized it had committed a critical fumble and quickly instituted a new stringent domestic violence policy. But the fact that the NFL wasn’t able to correctly address something that was so glaringly wrong in the first place was massively shortsighted and, frankly, appalling.

And it’s not just us who are highlighting the many issues the NFL is dealing (poorly) with: take a look at this Washington Post article documenting the problems the organization has faced over the past few years.

However, while the NFL has been roundly criticized for the Ray Rice debacle, as well as its reluctance to advance concussion research to protect former, current and future players, business is booming. In fact, revenues exceeded $10 billion in 2013 and are projected to reach $25 billion by 2025. And as I write this blog post highlighting the failures the NFL has had in brand reputation, I’m giddy for this Sunday’s opening weekend of games. So clearly, the NFL not only banks, but also capitalizes on millions of fans that act just like me.

The Washington Post article argued, “the NFL doesn’t have a PR problem … it has a reality problem.” We think that should be flipped – the NFL does have a PR problem because it’s so negligent (or flippant) towards it. Although it continues to drag its reputation through the mud, the reality is that the NFL’s future is blindingly bright despite these stumbles. But as PR practitioners, we can tell you from experience that ignoring PR best practices as blatantly as the NFL does almost always results in bad business. Almost always.

Look, I love this sport. I just hate its PR practices.

PR Professionals SHOULD Break Social Media Taboos

Thinkstock Photos
Thinkstock Photos

I recently came across an article on Mashable and it got me thinking: a lot of the self-absorbed social media behavior we are guilty of is exactly what we do as PR professionals. Such as:

1. Stalking your ex’s new partner.

Let’s be real – we all do it. Thankfully, unlike LinkedIn, Facebook doesn’t tell you who has viewed your profile.

While it’s human nature to analyze the competition, it’s generally frowned upon when it comes to late-night stalking. In PR it’s different. It’s our job to know the competition and one of the best ways to analyze our clients’ competitors is through social media.

2. Checking to see how many people have liked or commented on your status updates.

We all like to feel special and know that people are interested in our lives – perhaps that’s why we incessantly check to see how many birthday posts we’ve received or how many likes we’ve gotten on a photo. If you manage the PR program for one of your clients, then you’ll find yourself doing this everyday.

Social media is a powerful PR channel and it’s important to make sure social posts are resonating with the key audience. A great way to know if a post is working or not is by looking at the post’s engagement. Similar to A/B testing, you can see what posts work best and model your future posts around what was successful in the past.

3. Bragging about yourself.

Everyone’s been guilty of excessive online gloating at some point. Social media bragging is often looked down upon, but less so for companies. PR professionals rely on social media to promote company news, accolades and momentum; it helps continue the lifecycle of content. Best-case scenario? The brags news goes viral.

4. Looking at photos of everyone hanging out without you.

Nobody likes to feel left out, and it’s never fun to see pictures from an awesome event that you missed out on. The same goes for PR. Let’s say you saw photos from a recent industry event featuring representatives from all your client’s competitors. That probably tells you one key thing: your client should have been there too.

So what have we learned here? Basically, we’ve all committed some kind of self-absorbed behavior on social media whether we like to admit it or not, but PR professionals actually get paid for it.

Reversing the Bastardization of Leadership in Tech PR, Part 4: Team Leadership in Tech

Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men
Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men

In this last installment in our XTC (Examining the Change) series on the bastardization of “leadership” as a concept in technology PR, we look at team leadership. And just like leading marketspublic discussions or innovation curves, leading teams requires that we hold true to the central tenet of leadership: being in service of something greater than yourself.

Sadly, many of us have a knee-jerk skeptical reaction when we hear things like “Don’t we need a vision statement?” And to a degree, that skepticism is warranted. All too often an exercise around creating a vision or values statement is reduced to a group grope in which everybody’s opinion is sandwiched into the world’s longest and least meaningful sentence. In short, it reads like a buzzword wordle coughed up by a corporate life coach. It does everything except what it was meant to do—namely, create focus and purpose.

After all, a strategy is not a strategy until it tells you what you’re not going to do. And being in service of something greater than yourself requires you to know—and articulate—what that is, and what that is not. That’s why the vision statement matters so much: it tells your group of highly talented but likely overworked people what they don’t need to spend their precious time doing. The same goes for the values statement: it tells you and your leaders how you’re not going to behave when faced with difficult choices.

So if you’re leading a fast-moving technology team, or you’re responsible for communicating the leadership attributes of a high-profile tech leader, here are a few practical pointers for how to articulate vision, values and leadership agenda:

–       Start with “why”. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Purpose matters. It attracts talent, engenders patience, and gives people a reason to want to see you succeed. Most of all, it calls forth the best in your team. So be clear about why your company does what it does, what win-win scenarios it creates, and what impact you’ll have.

–       Be clear about what you’re notEspecially for early stage companies, it’s hard to close the door on future opportunity if you’re not quite sure with how your market is going to take shape. But unless you’re clear with what opportunities you’re not going to pursue, you’re going to end up with a loose confederacy of distantly related teams and tactics. Close some doors and create some focus.

–       Coach, don’t dictate. This is tricky for those of us trained in client service who think we’re suppose to have all the right answers. But for team leaders, having all the right questions matters more. Choose to believe in your people and their ability to make the right call. See their full potential before they do, and ask the questions that wake them up. In short, coach.  And if you don’t know how to coach, go learn.

–       Remember who works for whom. As a leader you work for your company. The cult of personality is a short-term strategy. True, many people enjoy working for a charismatic visionary who knows exactly what to do and say at all times. But too often that dominating figure casts a long shadow and inhibits talent development. So don’t try to be an Iron Man superhero, where yours is the only opinion that counts. Lead a league of X-Men, each with their own mutant power. See that power within them, nurture it, and remember that you work for them even more than they work for you. That’s the true leadership story to tell.

This concludes our four-part series on saving “leadership” from the b.s. scrapheap in tech PR. So what do you think? We’d love to hear from you.