Wait! What? 9/18: Facebook Finally Gives Us The Thumbs Up To Give A Thumbs-Down

“It’s Friday.” That is arguably one of the sweetest phrases in the world. From finally being able to ‘dislike’ your crazy uncle’s political views to giving tweens yet another way to take photos of themselves (hands free, anyone?), we’ve got the rundown on the top tech and industry stories of the week:

Credit: Thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock
  • To like or not to like – that is the question. This week Facebook announced a ‘dislike’ button is in the works, empowering grumpy users everywhere to share their distaste.
  • Are you kidding me right meow?! Apparently a Cisco employee accidentally sent an email to the entire staffing list of over 30,000 employees, and pictures of cats and memes were circulated to everyone for hours. Obviously, madness ensued.
  • Taking your selfies to new heights … forget having to carry around a stick or deal with that pesky arm of yours in the photo: Dronies can follow you around, taking in-action photos of you and your friends on command. Kind of like drones flying around at concerts and NFL games taking photos of everyone, except now it’s just you, doing your thing, looking cool. Right?
  • Social media has that wonderful ability to take a giant event (the Super Bowl, GOP Debates…) and pick out one tiny aspect and run with it. The second GOP Debate was on Wednesday night, and amongst the pressing issues discussed, we discovered the variety of faces Donald Trump can make and who the #HotDebateGuy really is. Thanks, Twitter.
  • Definitely swiping right. Oscar Meyer recently rolled out a dating app for bacon lovers called Sizzl. It even provides a variety of safe first date questions, including:
    • “How do you like your bacon cooked?”
    • “What kind of bacon do you like?”
    • “If there’s one strip of bacon left, you…?”

Those were our favorite stories of the week, share yours with us on Twitter @BlancAndOtus!

Employee Spotlight: Annemiek Hamelinck, General Manager

I’m a runner.

Annemiek blogIt has taken me a long time to feel comfortable saying this out loud. When I told my friends and family that I had started running and signed up for my very first marathon in 2005, they simply started laughing because they thought I was joking. I never participated in sports while I was growing up and I had not ever even run one lap on a track (the farthest I typically ran was to the grocery store to buy a pack of cigarettes!). In fact, I did not even own a pair of running shoes.

I started running to create space. Space to think and space for me. The kind of job we have requires a mind that is always on. It’s also the kind of job that has us surrounded by people who are tapping into that mind that’s always on. Its noisy, it’s constant and it can be overwhelming. It certainly was for me.

I just started training for another marathon and, coincidentally, my training program started the same week I started this new job. I have lofty goals for both. For my running: keep my toenails, kick ass and qualify for Boston. For Blanc & Otus: foster a culture where everyone can be themselves, be heard and be awesome. Where we work hard and play hard. Where we make big ideas a reality. Where we deliver five-star service to our clients and have a damn good time doing it.

I have big shoes to fill that require big thinking and big space. There is no doubt in my mind that running is what keeps me creative and sharp. Henry David Thoreau said: “Methinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Wait! What? 9/11: It’s Christmas for Techies and Fashionistas, Love and PR are One and the Same

week in review 911
Credit: Thinkstock

Happy Friday everyone! Though there was only one national holiday this week, the Apple event is well on its way to becoming a bank holiday itself! From channeling your inner child to channeling your inner serial dater, here’s a round up of some of the top industry stories from this week:

  • This week was all about the big Apple reveal! The Tech Elite flocked to Bill Graham Auditorium this Wednesday as the world was introduced to the new iPhone, Apple TV and…Apple Pencil? The Next Web’s roundup of the event can help you keep track of all the updates and innovations.
  • Another exclusive event for a different kind of elite crowd kicked off this week: New York Fashion Week. Once reserved for the rich and famous, technology has worked its way into the tents at Bryant Park, offering us plebs a piece of the action through live-streaming.
  • You may not be a kid anymore, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t treat September like a new beginning. Fast Company gives advice on how to recapture that “back to school” feeling and refresh your career.
  • Is finding love really about selling yourself? Comedian Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance looks at dating in the digital age, but it actually gives some pretty sound marketing advice as well! Whoever said that PR wasn’t romantic?
  • In more somber news, today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. WIRED takes a look at how the creators of the 9/11 museum took on the gargantuan task of creating a monument that would honor the memory of those who lost their lives and educate visitors about the tragic event.

That’s all folks! Tweet us your favorite stories of the week @BlancAndOtus.

PR Can Be Stressful – Here are 5 Ways B&O Is Reducing the Strain….

Did you know that public relations executives have the 6th most stressful job in America? Under constant pressure and tight deadlines, it’s no secret that PR professionals feel overwhelmed from time to time (insert that collective SIGH here). So how can we learn to manage stress, avoid mental fatigue, and be happier overall at work?

Credit: AndreyPopov, Thinkstock
Credit: AndreyPopov, Thinkstock

You might think a viable solution to preventing all this stress would be to plan ahead and predict our daily schedules more effectively. But PR is a spur-of-the-moment industry, and the need to manage a constantly evolving news cycle often prevents said planning from happening in an organized fashion. Hence, it’s critical that PR workplaces continually seek out creative ways to help combat stress.

Stopping mental fatigue – a phenomenon caused “by an inability of the fatigued subject to allocate attention efficiently” (ERP study) – and stress in their tracks is where PR professionals need to focus their energy. “It’s preventative medicine,” said Jane Buckingham, CEO of trend forecasting and media firm Trendera in a recent Adweek article. “Studies show that meditation and living healthy lives make people more productive. They’re less frazzled by heavy workloads; they’re less likely to be overwhelmed…” And they’re therefore more likely to jump on tasks faster and with more energy and eagerness than before.

So let’s get down to it: What stress-reducing measures has B&O implemented in the workplace that work for us? Here are a few:

  1. Bouncy exercise balls and standing desks: Along with reducing stress, bouncy balls and standing desks can give you a break from the evil desk chair, which can literally kill you. The Washington Post released a troubling article last year detailing the excess of health problems desk chairs cause including heart disease, over productive pancreas, colon cancer, muscle degeneration, poor circulation in legs, soft bones…to name just a few. Bouncy balls reduce mental fatigue by forcing muscles to balance and thus pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain, reducing brain fog. Fast Company’s recent scientific research on standing desks indicates they have resulted in some clear physiological health benefits, including increased energy expenditure and an average heart rate increase of 8 beats per minute. Not to mention, they are simply fun and often the source of other workplace hijinks – including bouncy ball basketball.
  2. Encouraging stress-reducing moments in daily PR life: Yes, we are all super busy, but taking a few minutes to regenerate can pay off when it comes to boosting productivity and creativity. And that’s exactly why we have massage days every couple of months. To say they are popular would be an understatement. Not to mention, we are huge fans of an afternoon run for coffee, iced tea, whatever your pleasure. But really it’s less about the drinks than the stroll out in the fresh air and the conversation with colleagues that rejuvenates you and gets you ready for that next task ahead. Lastly, it is not uncommon to see that all office email go around with a hilarious cat or goat video. After all, nothing lightens the mood or brings a laugh like goats dubbed into Taylor Swift videos.
  3. Plan fun activities employees can look forward to: Good, clean happy hours … a definite key to reducing stress. While Inc. goes so far as to say beer can make you smarter, the #1 reason to plan these events is so employees have something fun to look forward to when moments of stress kick in during the workday. Aside from happy hours, B&O is known for its legendary events – from Valentingo to St. Patty’s Day Olympics.
  4. WFH Fridays: Ah, it’s just before the weekend, so what better reward after a long week than to stay home and complete your work from the comfort of your own place? Working from home eliminates the commute, traffic, and provides employees with that work/home balance they crave … not to mention the option of staying in your pajamas until noon and working alongside your pet is always a priceless benefit.
  5. Monthly Fitness Reimbursement: It’s no secret that gym memberships can prove expensive, and while the benefits of reimbursing employees for monthly gym fees are clear, employers benefit as well: when employees exercise and eat better, morale improves, productivity increases, and healthcare costs go down.

These are just a few of the great perks that accompany B&O’s fantastic wellness and healthcare benefits. And one thing is for certain: the implementation of these initiatives is crucial to our success in this constantly changing, fast-paced world of PR that, for better or worse, we love.

Should We All Scream for Live Stream?

Thinkstock Photos
Thinkstock Photos

It wasn’t that long ago when social media changed the way we looked at PR and marketing.

No, seriously. The very first tweet was sent out in 2006, but for a good half-decade, most were simply tweeting to let everyone know what they were having for lunch. I never fell into that category. Over the past several years, companies have now gotten a firm grasp on how they can leverage social media to engage their different audiences.

Now comes the latest social content evolution: live streaming.

Live streaming apps like Meerkat, Periscope and Hang w/ are now all the rage for sharing content, and are perfect for real-time viewing. People and brands are using these apps to share thoughts, answer questions and connect more personally to their followers, in the moment. But since the concept of live streaming content is still in its infancy, some of us are still trying to decipher how this latest form of sharing can be leveraged.

There are many pros for content marketers using live streaming apps to promote their brand. For starters, it can be used as a live “ask me anything” segment with the company’s CEO or other key figures. Having a prominent brand advocate speak live to the company’s audience makes for great expert commentary and brand transparency (because sometimes blog posts and event tweets can sound robotic when all your content is so carefully edited). It can also be used to stream live company events, announce a promotion or offer a great limited-time deal. A celebrity takeover might also work wonders for the company – imagine if Steph Curry or LeBron James live-streamed a party at the Google campus. This could easily go more viral than your typical 30-second TV spot – and without any media buy required.

Now for the cons. Live streaming means you’re doing it all in one take, meaning if you screw up, you can’t get all Bill O’Reilly and ask for a do-over. Second, some live streaming apps have a built-in forum for followers to comment in real-time. You know what that means? Trolls! Even though trolling has been around longer than email, it can still be a nuisance when the comments are directly attached to your brand’s content. Periscope has tried to control the situation with its follow-only mode, which allows for only your Twitter followers to view your stream and content. But that doesn’t do much good for companies with tons of followers (some trolls, undoubtedly) or that are looking to engage non-followers. If you have an idea on how to keep all trolls off live streaming apps, then the rest of the Internet will be happy to pay you millions of dollars to have them removed from other platforms, too.

Most importantly, understand that there are great risks when live streaming on behalf of your brand. Trolls can be ignored during those “ask me anything” segments, but what about those who begin asking questions about topics you really don’t want to discuss? Just like any live in-studio interview, be prepared for any unforeseen questions that might come your way. It’s up to you if you choose to ignore it, or want to acknowledge it. Regardless of how you want to handle it, remember that everyone’s looking at you, and it’s important to stay composed throughout the recording.

My advice: Though live streaming at our fingertips isn’t necessarily a “thing” just yet, it could be very soon. And if you want to leverage this new technology to push your brand and messaging, be sure to have a fully scoped plan behind your campaign. It’s just like shooting a live, one-take commercial … and the feedback will be instantaneous. So know what you want to say, have the right person in front of the camera and please be safe when filming live.

RSA 2015: Does the Security Industry Need a Reality Check?

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Yes, it’s that time of year again: The RSA conference is the world’s flagship security technology tradeshow and later this month it will be back in San Francisco. To prepare for the event, the Blanc & Otus Analyst Relations team spoke with many prominent analysts regarding the likely hot topics at this year’s show. Several themes quickly emerged from those discussions – some of which vendors should be worried about:

Vendor marketing is increasingly diverging from reality: While powerful marketing is part and parcel of being a successful vendor, analysts are becoming increasingly fatigued with vendor hype within overcrowded segments. Expect to see more and more research notes countering vendor claims, especially on areas of contentious category creation. Many analysts told us that they increasingly see the show’s value as centering on various networking opportunities, rather than the content vendors provide during the show.

AR Recommendation: When approaching new narratives and messaging work, marketing and communications teams should be asking themselves: “How can we best tell compelling and useful stories?”

CISOs…sweating in the spotlight: The pace of high-profile breaches is increasing and security has never been higher up the boardroom agenda than it is today. While this attention may help the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) secure much-needed funding for security initiatives and technologies, it also increases pressure on them to deliver. Some CISOs do a fine job of explaining their strategies to their boards, peers and the broader company, but too many revert to the comfort zone of ‘speeds and feeds’ speak, and as a result they don’t address business risk succinctly and compellingly enough. This ultimately leads to a failure to secure the necessary behavioral changes at the cultural level, which drastically impacts their ability to deliver in the long term. With growing numbers of ‘non-IT’ executives running their own shadow IT investments beyond IT’s control, this challenge is only increasing.

AR Recommendation: When framing up sales enablement materials prior to launch, sales teams should ask themselves: “How can I help my clients succeed in winning hearts and minds within the business?”

The user politics of digital transformation are unstoppable: Technology has always been successful based on user acceptance at a behavioral and cultural level. This has always been a particular challenge for security teams who have historically wanted to lock assets down. However, the shift towards digital business models – based on cloud, mobile, social and Internet of Things-based technologies – means that old ‘lock down’ style security models simply aren’t feasible (if they ever were). While pioneering vendors are improving the usability of their solutions, they often do a much less compelling job when it comes to addressing the cultural, political and procedural impact of security technologies – specifically how security teams and processes can work with (rather than against) the business. To succeed, security must become invisible.

AR Recommendation: When creating content to support a product launch, product management teams must consider: “How do I articulate how this new technology changes the way the business operates?”

There are no easy answers here. Standing out from the crowd in 2015 – without being excessive – is a real challenge. However, vendors should keep themselves honest by running regular reality checks as the year progresses. Remember:

  • Narrative Always Trumps Messaging – It’s great to have a well-crafted product message, but that hard work is wasted if the broader narrative it sits within isn’t also working. A great narrative generates interesting viral conversations by generating questions and answers that can play back to product strengths. Does the narrative gel with the end user’s experience and situation? Messages need roots.
  • Authenticity Has Never Mattered More – Yes, perceptions matter, but ultimately it is reality and the facts on the ground that makes or breaks careers. Be sure you can stand out with a smart idea, but you must also stand by your claim and own it. Does the excitement of the initial concept marry the possible with the probable?
  • Research Hard, Fail Fast and Re-iterate – Research can make all the difference, turning early adversity into future opportunity. Take a DevOps approach to your communications activities – use analyst inquiry and messaging sessions to quickly develop Kevlar for your Narrative prior to launch. Better to fail early, and then quickly re-iterate your way to success, than continue with an approach that’s not working.

So what’s got you excited about this year’s RSA? If you have an RSA story to share, or want to discuss how analysts can help bulletproof your story then drop me a line at tris.clark@blancandotus.com.

#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.

The New Norm: The Convergence of Strategy, Execution and Measurement

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

We all know that tech communications is evolving rapidly. But amidst the constantly changing technology, workflow and communication challenges we all face on a daily basis, the really interesting thing is that a new norm is slowly forming. Strategy, execution and measurement are beginning to converge. Old myths are being challenged. And a new playbook is forming around creative destruction, co-creation and authentic omni-channel storytelling.

First, this convergence of strategy, execution and measurement has enormous implications for what the new norm looks like in technology marketing. Strategy and execution are merging as the stakes are raised for strategies to pay off quickly.

And they are not the only things. Measurement and strategy are converging, as well. We used to conduct marketing and communications measurement after the fact and ask ourselves, how did we do? What might we do differently next time? Realistically, we’d do this once a month, in some cases only once a quarter, just because we were so busy executing we had little time to measure. But now the data that’s available to us on the impact of our communications is everywhere, it’s instantaneous, and it’s imperative that we learn from it.

Meanwhile, execution and measurement are merging. Traditionally, measurement would rarely actually impact how we were executing, because we waited for the final results to show up before we bothered to look at the data. As we learn to filter out the signal from the noise and become more adept at reading data signals intelligently, we can stop doing marketing and communications in the rear-view mirror and start looking at our instrumentation as we’re driving forward, not after we’ve finished the trip. Then we can adjust both our strategy and our tactics in real time to change the outcomes we’re measuring.

And all this means that as a marketing and communications function, we have to converge, as well, and collaborate more closely and fearlessly than ever before. Drop the silos. Don’t let org charts and reporting structures get in the way. Strategists and planners, creative designers and developers, project managers, relationship managers, data analysts—the entire team needs to gather around the table and recognize that it’s all connected now, and sharing information and insights faster internally is more important than ever. All too often, it’s our own internal political and organizational friction that limits our success.

And when we do gather as a team and start thinking collectively, it becomes that much easier to see through some of the more unhelpful myths that are getting on our way:

  • Communication innovation isn’t always about inventing new words.
    Sometimes, technology companies get caught up in category creation and creating new must-haves and catch phrases that nobody has ever used before. This is actually a time-consuming and costly approach. With all the white noise that already plagues most technology categories, the wiser approach is to engage in a little creative destruction, rhetorically speaking. Challenge existing myths and hype, be the voice of reason in a crowded discussion, and create some space for new ways of thinking.
  • Thought leadership isn’t a dictatorship.
    The next myth is that thought leadership is all about educating an audience and telling them something. In fact, thought leadership is about curating a discussion and asking your audience to see a current problem or challenge from a new perspective. Once you’ve cleared your rhetorical space of the b.s. and hype that’s clouding people’s understanding, you can co-create a point of view with your audience through the use of viral questions and interactive content strategies across multiple channels.
  • It’s not all about gorgeous content and keywords.
    Nobody will deny that brilliantly designed content and engaging form factors such as videos and apps work wonders to capture people’s attention and imagination. And clearly the right SEO strategy will boost visibility. But unless those eye-popping experiences and keywords lead to a measurable shift in sales, stock price, talent recruitment or some other KPI that the CEO cares about, it’s hard to justify even the most conservative of invoices on creative content. What’s really needed is for content creators to converge their thinking with the business strategists and data analysts around the table and come up with the omni-channel narratives and experiences that also lead to cash.

This the new norm that we see, and it’s just part of what we’ll be discussing in our upcoming series on The New Norm. There are many other PR myths to explore, and new ways for technology communicators to work together. We’ll be taking a look at them more closely in our upcoming series, and we invite you to share your ideas with us, as well.

Analyze This: Getting to Know Industry Analysts

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Industry analysts play a key part in the world of IT. Put simply, they share expert insights with clients, media and investors on how businesses and consumers can take advantage of existing and emerging technologies. Their perspectives impact million-dollar tech deals – a Blanc and Otus and H+K Strategies study found that industry analysts (along with peer-driven word of mouth) are the top driver of B2B tech adoption – but their influence is not always fully understood by communications teams.

This lack of understanding can negatively impact an entire communications program and is a particular problem at this time of year when communication teams are preparing to brief analysts at events like Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and RSA in San Francisco. Some key questions to consider before baking in your analyst relations (AR) strategy for the year include: how can I ensure that I am briefing the right analysts on the right topics? What can I do to really maximize the value of analysts for my stakeholders in the product strategy, marketing, PR and sales teams?

While many communications teams do a solid job covering the basics with ‘outbound’ briefings, many still fail to capitalize on the wealth of ‘inbound’ insights that analysts can bring to the table through inquiries, strategy days and consulting projects. It’s a common talking point within AR circles, and analyst firms comment on it too. When framing up any communications and marketing strategy, it’s important to know each analyst firm’s specialties, client base and the methodologies they use to analyze product markets. Getting to also know the analysts as individuals – dislikes, likes and their interpretations of a market space – is also very important.

Never a shy bunch, the AR team here at Blanc and Otus are big fans of sharing insights and best practice with others. As a result, we’ll shortly be launching  ‘In The Tech Trenches: Analyst Interviews,’ a recurring Q&A with analysts from around the world. For each interview we invite a guest analyst to tell us about their firm, speak about their research agenda and share insight on how vendors can best engage with them. We’ll also be offering our own perspective on key things vendors should bear in mind when planning AR strategies and briefing analysts.  We’re delighted to announce that we’ll be kicking off our very first Q&A interview with 451 Research’s Alan Pelz-Sharpe in the coming month.

Not sure which analysts you should be speaking with? Wondering how you can best leverage analyst insights before, during and after an industry event? Then drop me a line at tris.clark@blancandotus.com.

PR Pros: Shut Your Phone Off This Valentine’s Day. I Dare You!

Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)
Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)

We have written a lot about the changing nature of communications. But when it comes to personal communications, many things haven’t and shouldn’t change.

That’s why I’m shutting my phone off for 24 hours this Valentines Day. And I dare my fellow PR professionals to do the same.

If you’re like me, you’ll find it harder than it sounds. PR is a dynamic and fast-moving industry that often requires us to be hyper-connected, but at times that can be stressful and make us a little obsessed with our phone, tablet or other personal device of choice. To make matters worse, people everywhere are turning to technology of all kinds to give Cupid’s arrow a little boost with Valentine’s Day coming up. That means we risk spending more time than ever with our other secret lover—our mobile device—right before we re-engage in real life.

For those who already have a valentine, the stakes are high. A recent study showed that 53% of all U.S. women will dump their man if they don’t get a Valentine’s Day gift, which might explain the last-minute online rush for flowers, chocolates and that perfect corner table at the romantic restaurant.

For those still looking for love, there’s historically a spike in online dating site traffic, as folks spend extra time swiping through Tinder, Zoosk, OkCupid or Match.com. And we won’t even get into what happens on the biochemical side of the innovation equation around Valentines Day. Whether it’s alcohol, aphrodisiacs, aromas, or little blue pills, people try to hack the human code when the stakes are high, as MSNBC reported a few years ago.

But the one thing all these tech tools have in common is this—they’re used by people seeking to improve a distinctly offline experience. We find our partner, we get the flowers, we buy the chocolates, we get the perfect table … and then hopefully we switch the smartphone off and spend time actually looking into the eyes of the person for whom we’ve gone through all this trouble. Hopefully this is all in service of authentic human connection.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. The problem is that the same tools we use to find love are the same tools that can get in the way all too easily. Last fall, The Huffington Post reported on studies that showed how mobile devices, apps, and social media can ruin relationships. Just search “Technology and Intimacy” and see what comes up—article after article warning of the perils of tech addiction, occasionally interspersed with a pitch for how a new technology can help relationships.

That’s why this Valentines Day I’m shutting all my mobile devices off for 24 hours. I want to see what it’s like to go cold turkey and re-engage with the people around me. I’d love to rediscover the electricity from simply maintaining eye contact. And I’d love to test my ability to process the exabytes of data rushing at me in the form of my hand being held, hearing a joke, observing body language or smelling perfume.

If you’re looking for something to fill the hours, try this: 36 questions that are engineered to build authentic human intimacy between two people who’ve just met. You could even print it up if you want to hold true to your vow of digital abstinence.

At B&O, we believe that technology is most amazing when it lives in service of people and their quality of life. We also believe in the importance of work-life balance, even in a profession as hectic as tech PR. And we’re going to encourage all of our people to switch off and reboot over the Valentines Day weekend. Because in the always-on lifestyle of PR professionals, a little downtime and authentic human connection helps us stay true to our mission and ourselves.