- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Principal and Co-founder
- Organization:InkHouse Media + Marketing
- Area of Expertise:Public relations, social media
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 3:54 PM
Has InkHouse succeeded because we’re lucky or because we’re smart and we work hard? According to Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, while men tend to take credit for a company’s success, women often ascribe success to “luck, help from others, and working hard.”
Sandberg has started a national discussion that has gone from the Silicon Valley, to Oprah, to The Daily Show and last Friday, to Boston at a breakfast hosted by the New England Venture Capital Association at the Harvard Club (if you missed it, you can watch the livestream video).
One of Sandberg’s tenets is the importance of fostering confidence in women. This week, Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Irene Dorner, president and CEO of HSBC USA in The New York Times. She said the problem of the glass ceiling is matched by the “sticky floor” (women who don’t proactively seek higher-level positions).
How can we build this confidence? Sandberg reminded us that we should feel free to make our own rules, since the old ones aren’t working that well. Women need to mentor other women. It’s an easy slide into the “I did it the hard way and so should you” mentality, which discourages young women who need mentors more than critics. Don’t be a queen bee (a woman who achieved success in male-dominated environments and tends to oppose the rise of other women). Sandberg said, “A great boss gives credit to everyone else when things are going well and when they are not, says how can I fix it?”
Following are a few of my favorite pieces of advice for women from this broader discussion:
- Balance. Sandberg said, “Families with more balance are happier.” Anyone who’s interviewed at InkHouse has heard us talk about the importance of balance – it is a foundational element of our culture. You have to show up for work and your personal life with equal passion if you want to be good at either one. Of course, balance is not something that is attainable every single day or week. A culture that strives toward balance is also one that fosters teamwork and wards off resentment when deadlines bring late nights.
- Process is not progress. Irene Dorner said, “Women do funny things. They do things like work very hard and expect to be noticed for it — and they’re not, because it doesn’t work like that.” Knowing the difference between hard work and smart work is elemental to success. At InkHouse, our clients don’t give us credit for working hard. We get credit for getting great results. It’s up to us to shine a light on those great results. No one is going to do it for us.
- Done is better than perfect. In InkHouse words, you need to know when good enough is good enough.
- Sit at the table. Not in the back of the room or at the side of the table. When preparing for important meetings, we tell employees that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Walk into the room, look the person in the eye, shake his or her hand confidently, and behave as though you belong at that table.
Sandberg’s Lean In foundation is doing amazing things to support women and to move this from discussion to action. Last year I was thrilled to see Liza Mundy’s piece in Time Magazine about the progress women have made. Nearly four in 10 working wives out-earn their husbands (up 50 percent from 20 years ago). More needs to be done, and as with all change, it starts with small steps. Sandberg suggested that each person begin by simply inviting a woman to the table, today.
A big thank you to C.A. Webb at the NEVCA for organizing this amazing event. She leans in to every single thing she does, and this event would not have been possible without her grace and energy.
Monday, April 8, 2013, 4:00 PM
According to The Pew State of News Media 2013 Report, there was a 3.6 to 1 ratio of PR people to journalists in 2008 (up from 1.2 to 1 in 1980). I am not surprised. InkHouse grew 45 percent last year, and we’re on course to do the same or more in 2013. Why this growing gap? In short, the news media’s business model is in painful flux. As the Pew notes, “newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30 percent since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.”
The opportunity for PR is growing as we see new ways to engage with audiences directly and plentiful opportunities for content. Is the news business going away? Absolutely not. It’s changing.
The Content Opportunity
From our Content Bureau (read how to use content for PR in my piece for PRWeek), it is clear that thoughtful content designed to spark conversations drives engagement and often action. The content inflection point is here.
On one side, media outlets are looking to provide their content expertise to marketers. As the Pew notes, Fortune’s TOC (Trusted Original Content) program pairs Fortune writers with brands to create original content for exclusive use by marketers.
On the other side of that coin, more outlets are experimenting with contributed content from external sources. Business Insider was one of the first to introduce this model with its Business Insider Contributors (Huffington Post, as well, was an early entrant and has a host of contributors). Today, Forbes has a full roster of contributors and The Atlantic’s Quartz offers a unique approach for digital content that is organized around its stated current “obsessions.” Lauren Brown who headed up contributed articles for Business Insider is the deputy ideas editor for Quartz. And of course, many many many other high profile blogs consider guest posts that meet their editorial standards and focus, including GigaOm, TechCrunch, AllThingsD, etc.
New models of content curation and syndication are bubbling up to proliferate content beyond the boundaries of its original home. PandoDaily took the bold step of making its content freely available for reuse (through a tool called repost.us). As we recommend for infographics, the repost feature uses an embed code that likely gives PandoDaily credit for the Web traffic anywhere those articles land (it also looks like the ads get embedded with the article).
Then there are newer media models such as Buzzfeed, which I started following regularly after its “26 Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.” Read it. You won’t regret it. Mathew Ingram of GigaOm wrote that, “Newer digital-native publishers such as BuzzFeed are pinning their revenue hopes to sponsored content and other forms of ‘native’ advertising, in which the site creates content that is indistinguishable from its regular content.”
Don’t forget your press release, the original PR content. Releases are great for SEO, but given that “reporting resources” are “cut to the bone” with “fewer specialized beats,” (according to Pew) your press release has never been more important. Often, it provides language we see verbatim in news stories.
The Social Opportunity
The Pew report confirmed what good PR people already know — if you have great content, to make it take off, you need to get the press to pay attention and get it into your audience’s social streams. According to the Pew:
- 72% of U.S. adults most commonly get their news from friends and family (in person or by phone). Of those, 63% somewhat or very often seek out a news story about that event or issue.
- 15% of U.S. adults get most of their news from friends and family through social media. 77% of those follow links to full news stories.
- Almost 25% of those between 18 and 29 rely on social media as their primary source of news.
Like the rest of the world, we at InkHouse are interested to see which news media model will ultimately win. I think (and hope) the tide will shift back to thoughtful reporting and I applaud some of the media outlets with which InkHouse works regularly for their part in driving important conversations, including Xconomy, PandoDaily and GigaOm, which have made their brands through thorough and thoughtful reporting and analysis.
People have not lost interest in thoughtful news, they just need to be able to find it easily and understand its importance quickly. This is the job of PR.
Follow Beth Monaghan on Twitter @bamonaghan
Friday, March 15, 2013, 9:40 AM
The only industry changing more quickly than PR is the media, and we are inextricably intertwined. I entered PR in 1997. The dot.com bubble was fat, as we ignored our collective common sense in the wake of skyrocketing IPOs and lovable sock puppets, which turned out of course, to be unprofitable. Despite the dot.com buzz, we were still perfecting how to use email for media relations and favored hard copy press kits (I frequently made the midnight run to Logan Airport to make the last FedEx pickup).
Almost a decade later, InkHouse was in its formative stage, and blogging was exploding. Media empires were waning, and PR people were trying to figure out how to communicate with opinionated bloggers who operated under unknown deadlines. As it turns out, this was a boon to creative and ambitious PR people – if you were willing to exchange emails late at night, you could often get a lot more coverage than was possible just a few years earlier.
The transition was not all rainbows and unicorns though. Some bloggers waged war on PR people. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch famously decried, “Death to the Embargo,” and a number of other bloggers followed suit, but it worked best for TechCrunch. After seeing huge traffic and user spikes following a TechCrunch story, startups across the country vied for TechCrunch exclusives and sacrificed broader coverage. For a little while, we thought embargoes would go away entirely (see my post, “The Embargo Lives, for Now,” from 2011) but they are back, for the most part.
In the midst of all of this, social media, the darling of the blogsphere, changed everything again. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, in particular, have ushered PR into the era of authentic discourse. Press materials have turned into social content and briefings into conversations. It’s not about scripting the dialogue (although we do scrutinize our press releases much more closely since they are often reprinted verbatim!), but about participating in the conversation.
Where do we go from here? Mary Meeker’s most recent iteration of her “Internet Trends Year-End Report” showed that mobile traffic has grown to account for 13 percent of Web traffic. As Meeker’s “re-imagining of everything” has pointed out, the only certainty is change, and mobile will play a starring role.
Beyond the mechanics of how we communicate with audiences, the heart of good PR has been, and will be the same. We must offer unique and relevant viewpoints that are rooted in authority. Relationships matter and are fueled by our credibility and our authenticity. Getting there first only matters if we’re prepared. Finally, and most importantly, our jobs are ultimately to tell great stories.
Below is an infographic we created to show how things have changed, and what will always remain:
Follow me on Twitter @bamonaghan
Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 12:10 PM
Last week, I wrote about What You Should Expect from Your PR Agency. In short, you should expect a lot. Public relations is a relationship business. Great client relationships almost always translate into greater success for the overall PR program. But success is a two-way street. If you have a good PR firm that holds up its end of the bargain as I described last week, following are some things you can do to maximize success:
- Arm us with information. Give us everything you have. We want to understand your company goals, your PR goals, what makes you different, and what you think. We even want to know if you spend your weekends skydiving in New Hampshire or playing the drums in a cover band. We are experts at digging through information to find the big ideas and small details, that when combined, will compel the press to write.
- Make us the first to know. The earlier you can bring us into a major news event, the better our chances of success. Even if we can’t do advance outreach, when we have the opportunity to determine the best strategy, prepare our media lists and prioritize our targets, we’re dramatically more successful. Unfortunately, if the release has already crossed the wire, it can be too late to interest the press.
- Be responsive. If you see a high priority email with “Immediate NYT opportunity” in the subject line and notice a few missed calls from us, time is of the essence. Reporters’ deadlines can be minutes away, and we are at their mercy. The first to respond is the first to be quoted.
- Celebrate wins enthusiastically. We are accustomed to accepting no news for good news. You don’t owe us gifts or praise, and we are grateful for your business. However, if you want to be the account that everyone begs to work on, celebrate our wins enthusiastically. At InkHouse, we still talk about a client who stopped by in-person and unannounced to deliver champagne after a big launch. The team was stunned, and a year later, we still talk about it.
- Know when to blame, and when to commiserate. Your PR firm is at the mercy of reporters, and reporters are at the mercy of editors. Space sometimes shrinks at the last minute and editors are forced to cut stories. We, too, are frustrated when this happens, but it does not help us to blame the reporter. PR deals in earned media, which brings no guarantees. Join us in commiseration with the reporter, and chances are good that we’ll get into the next piece.
- Respect our media relationships. You hire us, in part, because of our media relationships. We treat reporters as if they were clients to maintain those good relationships: we don’t bring them stories we know they won’t write, and we don’t ask for corrections unless the errors are material. The upside of this is that they will listen when we bring them a good story, and they’ll make the corrections when it matters. If you can take our guidance about how and when to approach reporters, you’ll get better and more plentiful coverage in the long run.
- Calibrate your expectations. Some clients want product profiles in The Wall Street Journal, others want an Op-Ed in The New York Times. Before you fire us for telling you that this is going to be very, very hard, take a quick look through the publication of your desire. For example, by the most recent account, the Times receives 1,200 unsolicited submissions every week. A brief tour of the Op-Ed section of the Times will reveal that they print only a handful each day – the odds of acceptance are less than one percent at best (unless you are a well-known thought leader). There is almost always a path to great coverage. It just might not be the exact one you had envisioned.
- Try it our way. If you find yourself reworking our angles, and editing our copy, and are then disappointed with the results, try it our way one time. The media landscape is changing very quickly, and so must the pitches and materials we employ. In other words, we might need to remove some of your marketing language to get more traction with the media.
The eight tips above are examples of the most important element in a successful client relationship: partnership. We have the most successful relationships with clients who treat us like a partner, not a vendor. We want to be in it with you.
Follow Beth Monaghan on Twitter @bamonaghan
Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 9:09 AM
How should I choose a PR firm? Each time someone asks me this, dozens of answers flutter to the forefront of my mind, but I always choose two fairly tangible criteria: fit and experience.
On the surface, it can be easy for all agencies to sound very similar, which makes fit and experience crucial. You need an agency that understands your audience, your market, and the reporters you need to reach. Fit is equally important. You’ll be working closely with the PR agency every single day (and many evenings), so you’ll need to be able to work well with the assigned account team.
However, fit and experience alone will not make your agency successful on your behalf. This post is the first in a two-part series about how to work with a PR firm. We’re starting with what the PR firm should do for you. Stay tuned for how you can maximize your investment in PR. Following are some important qualities you should expect form an agency that is committed to your success. You need an agency that:
- Owns the process. You want an agency that will never say, “Well, we sent you the guidelines for the Forbes contributed article three months ago and never heard back.” Your agency should be a professional nagger – they should never let you be the reason for a missed deadline.
- Pushes back. You are hiring a PR firm for its expertise, so find one that provides firm recommendations. If your account team is constantly nodding their heads and yessing you, there is a problem. The success of your PR program requires a team lead who can adamantly say no in the face of tough scrutiny when something just won’t work.
- Knows when to give in. There are times when other company goals, such as sales campaigns, take priority over PR (for example, when a sales team is under the gun to meet quarterly goals and needs to push out a direct email campaign in advance of the press release). Your PR firm should tell you the optimal plan for getting great media coverage, but should also accept it when PR is not at the top of the list.
- Makes it happen. Only clients should have the luxury of asking big questions without offering solutions, such as, “How can we maximize our attendance at an upcoming trade show?” Good PR firms know that the right response is a list of viable options, not more questions.
- Surprises you with unexpected and creative ideas. Your PR firm should march to the beat of the PR plan, but they should also bring you unexpected and creative ideas. This demonstrates that they are paying active attention. Only intellectually hungry people will tie the right pieces together to make you relevant in a way that matters to the press.
- Owns mistakes. If your agency needs to be right all of the time, it’s a problem. You need an agency that abides by the rules of crisis PR (even when the crisis is a very small one): tell it all, truthfully, and tell it now. This takes confidence and humility, but it is the sign of a great communicator.
- Hustles. Look for an agency that is pushing you, not the other way around.
- Writes well. Content marketing has changed PR forever. Adequate press release writing skills are no longer enough. You need an agency that can sift through mountains of information, zero in on the interesting angle, and ghost-author an article for your spokesperson. Ask for samples, and look at the agency’s blog.
- Listens intently. PR people are renowned great talkers. We need to be. However, we need to know how to listen too. You need a PR agency full of the kind of analytical and open minds that can scan the conversation for points of interest, drive the discussion toward them and relate them to your broader industry.
- Empathizes. You need a PR agency team who can imagine what it’s like to be you. What pressures do you face internally, from your board, from competitors, others? Is PR central to your role or tangential? Coincidentally, this skill also makes PR people great at media relations – we must also imagine what it’s like to be each reporter if we have a prayer of selling a story.
- Navigates options and contingencies like an attorney. There are many decisions we must make along the winding route between the pitch and the placement. You need an agency that understands the media landscape – which outlets (and journalists) compete, which reporters require exclusives, which ones care about embargoes, and which angles will compel coverage. Sifting through these and responding appropriately when an embargo is broken or an exclusive falls through tests the skills of the best PR professionals, so make you sure have a team who can bend gracefully when a critical relationship is at stake, and hold firm when your company goals require it.
- Thick skin. PR people sit in the middle of two constituents whose goals are not always aligned: the media and our clients. Finding the common ground that creates successful outcomes for both requires an ability to handle discord well.
But success is a two-way street. Stay tuned for my next post on what clients should bring to the relationship for success.
Follow Beth Monaghan on Twitter @bamonaghan