How Valuable is the History Lesson? The Value of Experience in PR Part 2

Credit: Andrew Horne
Credit: Andrew Horne

I used to. We did. When we. These are just three of the warning signs that come up when someone is about to explain a campaign or tactic that they did in the past. They are typically followed by details of what worked and guidance on how that could be applied to the current situation.

It would be naïve and arrogant just to dismiss the insights gained, but if the history lesson is more than 5 years old, the chances are it will be past its sell-by date. The technological changes in marketing (and in PR for that matter) have just been so steep. In fact, some experts argue that marketing has changed more in the last 5 years than the last 500.

In the last post, I looked at how these changes have impacted large strategic PR projects like messaging and positioning, but the ripple effect goes much further. As while PR pros could once rely on TV, newspapers, magazines, and maybe some radio to reach their audiences, the reality today is very different.

To simplify the explosion in channels, many marketing and PR organizations added new teams (and some ridiculous new titles) that focus on specific areas. Lots of PR agencies initially did the same, only to find that breaking out social was akin to separating bread and butter. So if this was the wrong approach, what does the ideal structure now look like?

The Harvard Business Review suggests that’s the wrong question to ask. Instead, it recommends that marketing leaders ask themselves “What values and goals guide our brand strategy, what capabilities drive marketing excellence, and what structures and ways of working will support them?” I couldn’t agree more and believe the same is true for PR and communications.

What does this mean for how we reach our audiences? It means that looking at individual channels is a blinkered approach. Instead, we need to think holistically and embrace brand journalism. As Larry Light, former global CMO of McDonald’s and the former chief brands officer at InterContinental Hotels Group, said: brand journalism is now a modern marketing imperative and involves creating “a continuing flow of valuable, relevant, integrated and engaging content — advertising, articles, blog posts, social media, live events, videos and social media.” In other words, it’s a blueprint for modern PR.

That’s not to say that we throw everything out. The relationship building skills that have always been central to reaching and engaging audiences are more valuable today than ever before. We just need to move beyond the idea of a simple Rolodex and instead look at how those skills can be complemented by the wealth of data and technology that we now have available.

Having now looked at the relevance of experience to both strategic and tactical PR programs, the next post will go back to the question of whether experience in PR is an asset or anchor.

Viral Storytelling—Mythic Models for Audience Engagement Part VI: “The Power of The Viral Question”


We conclude our XTC series on Viral Storytelling with a quick look at how questions, more than sound bites or “key messages,” can generate real audience engagement and create a longtail effect for marketing and communications campaigns.

To review, we define “Chapter 5: The Viral Question” portion of our story as a provocative, open-ended question designed to generate positive word of mouth around the topics that matter most. And this is important as our study of tech decision makers showed that the number one source of positive buzz is a brilliant question that makes people look smart when they answer it. And that same study found that such discussions had an impact on business priorities and budget line items of a company, as well as on individual purchase decisions.

The potential is impressive, but what makes a viral question powerful? For starters, binary questions are useless. Anything that can be answered with a “yes”, “no” or “I don’t care” is a non-starter. A viral question works because it plays into existing pain, ambition, curiosity or pleasure—it works because it taps into a topic that’s already relevant but frames it in a new way that makes it both fun and productive to answer the question.

And there’s no better place for inspiration for fun and productive questions than to examine the endless supply of not fun and not productive questions that abound around a company and its offerings. So, for example:

  • If your sales force is getting peppered with boring and non-strategic questions on price and commoditization issues, flip the script and ask, “Where are progressive companies unlocking hidden value from proven technologies?”
  • If your IR team is dealing with continued questions around unwanted acquisition rumors, look at the question behind the question and ask, “How do we empower partners, and what are the win-win’s we are creating for our industry?”
  • If reporters continue to draw unhelpful comparisons between your company and the wrong set of competitors, ask the question, “What business are those companies really in, and what’s their real revenue agenda?” and use the response to that question to differentiate your company more intelligently.
  • And if your customers are buying your entire story, but you’re still experiencing excessively long sales cycles and they seem to be stuck on not seeing tangible ROI, ask the question, “If the ROI seems fuzzy here, then what’s the cost of doing nothing? What’s the risk of inaction?”

These questions, posed across multiple channels, can help change the course of a conversation, initiate a new direction in the public dialogue around your company and your category, and engage your audience in a more meaningful discussion that benefits them as much as it benefits your own marketing programs. Popularize these questions in private desk-side briefings with the influencers who matter—reporters, analysts, bloggers, academics, regulators and pundits. Pose these questions at the end of speeches, panel discussions and interviews. Tweet them. Test them with LinkedIn groups. And incorporate them into your internal communications programs.

Not only will you generate some positive word of mouth, you might just generate some truly useful insights from people with a completely different perspective. And when we genuinely get curious about the answers to these viral questions, it’s amazing what we can learn and apply … and perhaps even inspire the next five-chapter narrative campaign.

This concludes our Viral Storytelling Series. For more information about Viral Storytelling, including training modules and case studies, please contact me at

No News Is Not Good News in PR: Tips for Consistent Media Coverage


The single most important job of a PR professional is getting your clients nice placements in the media. But what do you do when a client doesn’t have groundbreaking product announcements or exciting customer wins? A smart PR agency knows that you don’t just passively wait around for hard news to fall in your lap – you take an inventive approach to media relations. In B2B technology PR this is especially crucial, because drumming up buzz can be tricky for some of the world’s less “sexy” technologies.

Struggling to keep your clients in the press? Use these tips that we have success with on a regular basis:

Join the conversation
Increase brand awareness and drive credibility by inserting your client into larger industry conversations. When a reporter is working on a news story, they usually like to include third party commentary for perspective and authority. By staying on top of the news in your clients’ space, you can proactively pitch your executives as subject matter experts to reporters. In doing so you have made the writer’s life a little easier and also landed thought leadership in an article on a topic that directly relates to your client.

Be sure to closely monitor newsletters like ProfNet and HARO, which are great services that match up journalists with sources, and act quickly on postings relevant to your client.

Show some personality
Executive profiles are a great way to secure major feature articles without news. Start by doing some digging on what makes your clients’ top executives unique. Interesting childhoods, cool hobbies and unorthodox leadership approaches are all great hooks. Often the founder of the company will have a great story about what led them to create their business – use that when possible. There are lots of reporters in business press and local publications who regularly profile executives, so do some research and pitch accordingly.

Get back to the basics
Some of the most successful media placements are not the result of pitching a press release, but instead uncovering a natural match between client and media. Take the time to find that perfect reporter who should definitely know about your client, write them a genuine note explaining why you think they’ll care, and offer them an introductory briefing. Coverage won’t be guaranteed, but this can be a great way to forge important relationships so that the reporter may think of your client when working on a story down the line.

At my agency, some of the biggest hits we secure are the result of proactive outreach rather than an announcement. We see time and time again that being both creative and tenacious in your approach to media relations can lead to impressive results.

When there’s no hard news, what other methods have you had success with for getting clients media coverage?

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.

Needle vs. Haystack: The Power of Small Data over Big Data

As we conclude this five-part series on the major themes and plays emerging in the 2014 Tech Marketers Playbook, we zero in on the big data discussion.

Big data has meant big business for the past several years and remains a top CIO priority for most. The big data stats get more startling each week: silicon-based computing power will soon outpace the collective cognitive powers of every person on the planet, and the rate at which we generate data is only growing exponentially. We live in a data economy, data is the new currency, we are all data geeks, etc.

Credit: Camila Bobin
Credit: Camila Bobin

But the truth is we’re experiencing a big data hangover. Gartner calls it “the trough of disillusionment,” and big data has been there since last year. Why? Because … we’re drowning in data but starving for insights.

The problem is that traditionally, big data has been about pattern recognition and seeing the forest for the trees. But for modern businesses skiing downhill at breakneck speeds on black diamond slopes, seeing the next tree is just as important. What if I don’t need to see forests and patterns? What if I just need to make the right decision, right now?

To heck with big data. We need small data.

A number of nimble companies have hit upon the same idea. Rather than look backwards at patterns and guess at trajectories to be debated at the next board meeting, an increasing number of solutions across multiple tech markets are focused on democratizing decision-making processes and increasing the agility and speed with which the right decisions can be made. And those decisions are being empowered by particularly useful smaller pieces of data that make a big impact on business. We see this in social media insights from the likes of HootSuite, cyber-security analytics from companies like Narus, marketing data and algorithms from companies like Lyris, and even sales compensation formulae and corporate incentive strategies from companies like Xactly. Small data—when it is the right data at the right time—is having the biggest impact on real-time human decisions.

And ultimately, tech PR should be about people, not technology. We are the most effective in our work when explaining why the technology matters rather than showcasing how it works. By telling more stories around the human aspects of technology—ingenuity, creativity, experience and wisdom—we in the tech PR community can have a more positive impact on our clients, our companies and our culture at large.

Next week we take a step back from the PR Playbook and focus instead on the power of storytelling—and how with great power comes great responsibility.

Engineering for Expectations: Human Response as the Central Design Principle

Credit: Blake Patterson
Credit: Blake Patterson

This week, XTC continues our PR Playbook discussion with a look at engineering for expectations—how human reaction ought to be the driving force behind how we design and market new technologies.

Human behavior has always been the biggest barrier to technology adoption. Before the iPhone, Apple launched the Apple Newton in 1992, aptly named because Newtonian physics were easier to understand. In addition to being too bulky to be pocket-sized, it required people to learn a frustratingly fickle technological cuneiform. Apple came out with iPod 10 years later, and iPhone 15 years later. The difference was summed up in one word from reviewers: intuitive.

Today, B2C and B2B tech companies alike have learned the power of being intuitive. But more than easy to use, technology must be easy to love, and that emotional bond must shine through in the narrative. Here are some storytelling components to showcase that “je ne sais quoi” of your own technology:

Understand the hype. People’s expectations for new technology tend to map to the adoption curve described by Gartner’s Hype Cycle, and those expectations are excellent guides for the tone and content of our tech PR. Are we enamored with novelty and unexplored potential? If so, clarify what’s most likely to be disrupted. Is the technology over-hyped and we’re promised it does everything, “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping”? Level-set expectations and challenge the hype. Are we frustrated with results and running into this technology’s shortcomings? Illustrate how to recoup the ROI from existing technology investments. Understanding hype is a prerequisite to effective technology thought leadership.

Make room for surprise. Marketers already know the power of customer delight, and in storytelling parlance the plot twist has always been key. But even more important than delight is surprise. When people encounter an expected joy, they feel good. When people encounter an unexpected joy, the feeling is even more potent and forms a stronger bond. This is what the serendipitous discovery and semantic web discussion was about. This is what compels us to return to CES annually. And it is essential in our storytelling that we not habitually spoil the surprise by dictating the benefit statements to our audience. Instead, leave some room to serendipitously discover new benefits in our offerings. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t tell the world how to use Facebook. He provided a (mostly) blank canvas and let users define this new social utility.

Showcase the human impact. Technologies are easier to love when the world has a reason to want to see them succeed. Showcasing the human impact of mobile, social, cloud and big data technologies shifts the burden of proof from “how can this possibly work?” to “why wouldn’t we want to see this work!” IBM speaks to the problems that impact society most in their Smarter Planet campaign. McKesson speaks to creating a vision for better health. LinkedIn speaks to economic impact and cultural leadership. Polycom speaks to the importance of human collaboration. Nobody can be the hero of their own narrative unless they are in service of something bigger than themselves. That’s the definition of a hero. There’s a lot of power in articulating why the world needs you.

This is how we can put that human expectation of a better life at the center of our communications strategies and make sure technologies continue to serve the human agenda … and not the other way around.

Next week: the rise of small data over big data.

XTC—Examining the Change: Changing the Relationship with Risk

Credit: Cole Patrick
Credit: Cole Patrick

In our previous two posts we’ve explored the dynamic of ingenuity over innovation, and ways to activate customers as influencers. But one of the more prevalent trends in tech marketing and PR this year is the extent to which tech marketers are targeting specific vertical markets.

What’s interesting is that many of these verticals are traditionally risk-averse, such as health careautomotive, and manufacturing. It’s usually because they  find themselves caught between opposing mandates such as regulatory concerns, public safety, security and financial risk on the one hand, and the need to deal with massive disruptions from new business models and competitors on the other. And if these traditionally conservative industries don’t embrace the risks that technology represents, they’re in trouble.

Gartner calls this “Digital Business Advantage,” and in a recent report, they make some fairly startling predictions. By 2017 …

  • 20% of all market leaders will lose their dominant position to a company founded after the year 2000 because of a lack of digital business advantage
  • 25% of all companies will lose significant market share because of “digital business incompetence”
  • Corporate strategists will begin conducting daily competitive scans because of a loss of sustainable competitive advantage

In other words, embracing technology risk is no longer a luxury. Fast followers have to become fast evolvers, or else they risk extinction.

But what if these organizations could change their relationship with risk? What if they could apply that same calculating conservatism they usually apply to examining technology ROI and instead calculate a different cost—the cost of doing nothingCertainly, it’s often difficult to predict the hard ROI from deploying a relatively new and unproven technology. But it’s much easier to predict the impact of not changing course when new competitors are emerging and already starting to eat away at your market position.

And what if companies began to count their organizational learning curve as a corporate asset, as well? That’s the other untold story in technology today—the fact that in many cases, we are still learning the appropriate use of these new technologies. But it takes time to figure out the best possible uses for a new technology, and all too often companies and industries assume that the first few uses are the only uses. And this leads to a gross undervaluing of ROI. But in a world where change is the only constant, it’s the fastest learning curve that wins. Where’s the ROI equation for that?

That’s why today many progressive companies are re-examining their relationship with risk. CIOs and CTOs are beginning to accept that the downside of innovation is nothing in comparison to the downside of not evolving. And progressive tech marketers are beginning to engage customers in co-creating value propositions. Because a great technology in the hands of an ingenious customer probably has applications far beyond what the vendor ever had in mind.

Next week, we’ll look at engineering for expectations, and embracing human assumptions as a core design principle for your tech PR campaign.

XTC—Examining the Change: Customers Are the New Influencers

L-R: Myself, Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li, and LinkedIn’s Mike Weir take a break before rocking a customer Q&A.
L-R: Myself, Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li, and LinkedIn’s Mike Weir take a break before rocking a customer Q&A.

Continuing in our 2014 Tech Marketers Playbook series, this week we look at treating customers as influencers.

It’s no secret word of mouth among customers influences consumer and B2B tech sales. A Fall 2012 survey of 813 B2B tech purchase decision-makers revealed that word of mouth from peers is the top driver of vendor short lists and deal closure. Industry analysts came in only a few points higher for influence. And the impact of word of mouth has only grown with the expansion of mobile and social platforms.

But what does this mean for tech PR? Where’s the customer influence playbook?

Fortunately, there’s a model from which we can borrow for how to activate customers as influencers: analyst relations. Here are five essential AR techniques that work just as well to turn customers into sales drivers:

  1. Ask viral questions. Our Fall 2012 study, revealed what motivates customers to contribute opinions online. The top answer—pose a thought-provoking question around a timely topic. The number two answer—focus on an interesting challenge they’re facing. Help your customers look smart by inviting them to answer provocative, open-ended questions, much as you would with analysts.
  2. Lean into criticism. When an analyst critiques a tech vendor, it’s a sign of affection (sort of). The analyst is trying to help the vendor by illuminating a blind spot and finding something to improve. Customer complaints hold the same potential. Tech companies who engage customer complaints with an earnest attempt to understand them—and act on them—often end up with a strong advocate in their corner.
  3. Ask for comparisons. Like analysts, customers have a broader field of vision than vendors. Even the most thorough competitive intelligence program can’t kick the tires on competitive offerings like customers can—and customers know exactly what they’re looking for. There are even online platforms to help them. Ask customers to tell you how you stack up, capture their feedback, and find ways to reward them for their critique.
  4. Keep them updated.  Nothing irks an analyst more than being caught off guard by a vendor announcing they’ve upgraded, discontinued or launched an offering. It makes them feel left out. The same is true of customers. If you value the relationship, make sure you’re giving them not only information about changes in your solutions portfolio, but rationales, as well. And then ask them those viral questions around how they will take advantage of the improvements.
  5. Get them talking with each other.  Once you’ve got a few customer champions in your corner, turn them into social media rock stars the same way you would showcase that special analyst who “just gets you.” Feature them in webinars. Promote them in trade press. Support them on LinkedIn. Invite them to your advisory board. Perhaps even invite them to host an opinion column on your own web site. Chances are you’ll not only cement the relationship, you’ll also learn something valuable along the way.

Up next week in XTC: changing your relationship with risk.

Stars of Silicon Valley Shine at B&O’s Fireside Chat

Let me start by simply saying this…our event last week was not your average, boring tech industry get together. In fact, there was nothing average about it.

Headlined by luminaries Charlene Li of Altimeter Group and Mike Weir of LinkedIn, and bringing together the hottest Silicon Valley companies and influencers including OracleTeradiciVentyxLyrisNarusBitcasaCheck PointNexGateSkype and YouEye, B&O’s inaugural Tech Marketing Playbook Fireside Chat was a great event filled with cool people and awesome content.

Discussion outlined marketplace shifts that impact how technology companies go-to-market and sustain their position, and offered sage advice on strategies and tactics that every tech marketing and communications professional should have in their playbook.

We will be continuing the discussion on this blog over the coming weeks/months and look forward to working with you all to build out the #PRPlaybook. You can also stay tuned into what’s happening in our world by following us on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

In the meantime, here are 10 reasons why Blanc & Otus is the hottest ticket in town:

1.  Hardworking, smart and fun – B&O has the best team ever.

B&O Staff


2.  We know how to fill a room.

Tech Marketing Playbook Fireside Chat


3. Who says tech PR trends have to be dull?

Josh Reynolds, Charlene Li, David Meizlik, Lori Shephard
L-R: Charlene Li, Altimeter Group; Josh Reynolds, B&O; David Meizlik, NexGate; and Lori Bush Shephard, Clarizen


4. Our gents know all about creativity, authenticity and fun – just what every successful social media program needs.

B&O staff
L-R: Neil Torres, Bill Rundle, Neil Desai, Simon Jones, Charlie Passero, Andrew Padgett, Drew Smith, all of B&O


5. We delight our guests with 5-Star Service AND the best Chardonnay.

L-R Karen Hartquist, Candice van der Laan, Deborah Hellinger, all of Oracle
L-R Karen Hartquist, Candice van der Laan, Deborah Hellinger, all of Oracle


6. We know who matters and have exceptional list management skills.

Event name tags


7. The ladies of B&O know how to work it – whether it’s PR magic or a little black dress.

L-R: Stephanie Kaye, Natalie Pridham, Ivy Chen, Joan Touchstone, Christine Pai, Danielle Tarp, Kristin Reeves, all of B&O
L-R: Stephanie Kaye, Natalie Pridham, Ivy Chen, Joan Touchstone, Christine Pai, Danielle Tarp, Kristin Reeves, all of B&O


8.  Two words: client lovefest.

John Philpin, Lyris and Danielle Tarp, B&O
John Philpin, Lyris and Danielle Tarp, B&O


9.  Our messaging skills are strong enough to stand on their own.

B&O banners


10. Making Josh look smaller than Charlene Li takes talent, but we know how to play with perspectives.

L-R: Josh Reynolds, B&O; Charlene Li, Altimeter Group; Mike Weir, LinkedIn
L-R: Josh Reynolds, B&O; Charlene Li, Altimeter Group; Mike Weir, LinkedIn

Wendy Allen