- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Principal and Co-founder
- Organization:InkHouse Media + Marketing
- Area of Expertise:Public relations, social media
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011, 5:41 PM
I hate shopping. Don’t get me wrong. I like to buy things. I just want them to be delivered to my door. My in-store experience encompasses a wide range of personality-changing encounters. I’m either dressed for work and being called to by the woman at the Dead Sea Spa kiosk with the “can I ask you a question” opener, or trying to buy a handbag from four affectedly bored sales people at Saks Fifth Avenue who are willfully ignoring me because I am wearing a fleece streaked with my daughter’s lunch. And if I must exit through the cosmetics entrance at Macy’s I tamp down the urge to punch the woman trying to spray me with Clinique Happy.
I have retreated to online shopping where I can find what I am looking for quickly, go elsewhere in one click if it’s sold out, and ask for help when and if I need it. Recently, I was forced into the mall because my MacBook Air’s spine was broken, so I had an appointment at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar that I had happily made online. I had 45 minutes to kill while my assigned Genius revived my best friend.
As I wandered through the Chestnut Hill Mall I was the sole shopper in every store except the Apple store, which was crowded. Now Apple does make beautiful, shiny toys that everyone wants, but I think there’s more to it. People are in the Apple store because they need expertise. I needed a Genius to fix my laptop. In every other store, I was just trying to avoid sales people who were trying to sell me things I didn’t want. What value are they offering?
Value often feels like a tired word to me. We talk about creating value for every kind of organization on the planet, but in the case of the Apple store, value makes the difference between engagement and avoidance. Apple is offering something that people value…and need. People come to them in droves. All they have to do is be ready with their iPads and iPhones.
Marketing used to be all about push. Like the Dead Sea Spa saleswoman, marketing would thrust messages onto passersby through ads, direct mail, email campaigns, billboards, and more with ever-evolving strategies to get people to take the bait. And certainly, we still must work hard to get our messages out there, and these vehicles still have an important place in the marketing mix.
But let’s consider the definition of “push” according to Dictionary.com:
- to press upon or against (a thing) with force in order to move it away.
- to move (something) in a specified way by exerting force; shove; drive: to push something aside; to push the door open.
- to effect or accomplish by thrusting obstacles aside: to push one’s way through the crowd.
- to cause to extend or project; thrust.
- to press or urge to some action or course: His mother pushed him to get a job.
None of these definitions make “push” sound like a good thing – it’s more of a thing done against someone’s will. The beauty of marketing in a social world is that we don’t have to push so hard. In fact, we have nearly immediate opportunities for feedback and conversation. We can offer ideas, share our campaigns, receive feedback and enter into conversations that simply weren’t possible before.
I am a believer in the Internet for virtually everything I do, personally and professionally, but if you wax sentimental for the unexpected distractions of a good old fashioned trip to the mall, spend a few hours on Twitter – Martha Stewart’s pic of her most recent dinner is just a click away. And just yesterday, Biz Stone from Twitter showed her how to make one of his favorite vegan recipes, seitan bourguignon. I rest my case.
For more InkHouse posts, go to www.inkhouse.net/inklings-blog/
Thursday, August 4, 2011, 11:54 AM
I have hard time letting go. I work hard to find the right balance between the dings of my email, Twitter alerts, and text messages on my iPhone and the time I spend with my family (see my post on The Good and Bad of NOW). But when I’m at work, I’m at work. I have a hard time letting the hard-working, smart people we’ve hired fly off on their own without my edits, perspective, input or help. In the words that G.I. Joe turned into conventional wisdom, I suppose that “knowing is half the battle.”
So when I took a few “vacation” days last week to move into a new house, I was planning to check email and review documents on my iPhone. I forgot that moving requires complete immersion…at least for me. In a display of my serious compulsion for order, and with the help of my generous family, we were completely unpacked within 48 hours. Another major task to check off the list!
Over the two days of my move, I tried to check my email, but I had a few moments when my heart started racing after realizing that I had not even glanced at my iPhone for four hours. I raced to find it in the mess of boxes and paper, and quickly scrolled through my messages, scanning for problems. Each time I discovered, to my relief, that not only was everything under control, it was flourishing.
Starting and growing InkHouse (we’re up to 25 employees now) has found me balancing on the rough edge between control and letting go. Although we’ve certainly tried at times, Meg and I cannot run the business on our own, and learning how to let others take the reigns has been a critical piece of our growth. We’ve tried to find tangible ways to infuse this belief in our culture here at InkHouse. It’s something we can always do better, of course. But I am grateful for opportunities that remind me about the importance of letting go.
Letting go does two things that matter. It fosters responsibility and helps to sprout new ideas. Removing the boss from the equation creates space for new ideas that aren’t shaped by the inherent propensity for employees to agree and defer. With the boss away, employees have an opportunity to truly own their work and contribute unique ideas.
MG Siegler’s month-long email ban may be the boldest commitment to letting go that I’ve seen and I’m impressed. He’s officially back on email, and I was not surprised that he didn’t miss it. Email quickens the pace of each day and spreads a good amount of stress and chaos in its path, but unfortunately, I’m locked in. On the plus side, I am thinking about plans for a real vacation some time soon – one without email.
Friday, July 15, 2011, 2:26 PM
Ever since I sat on the couch in September 2008 watching the demise of Lehman Brothers and acquiesced to an inevitable long haul of bad news and sad stories, I’ve been considering the impact of news on our collective mood.
As we teeter on a shaky and timid recovery from the Great Recession, we’re still fretting over the much-reported possibility of a double dip and a looming U.S. default. Bad news has always trumped good, and consumers’ appetite for reading it has kept up with its proliferation thanks to blogging and social media.
Bad news is the prettier, younger sister to strange and unusual news. While Lady Gaga’s dress made of raw meat grabs headlines, bad news will always attract more. Last month, Deepak Chopra wrote a piece for the Huffington Post, Prozac for the Planet? Or the Plus Side of Unhappiness, examining the psychology of our Great Recession. He wrote that, “Economies are rooted in psychology. When people are frightened they don’t spend, invest, or take risks the way they do when a dark mood doesn’t prevail.”
Chopra also wrote, “In the mass media ninety percent of recovery plans and proposals are materialistic. But without a shift in psychology, such plans will not lead to growth or expansion.”
Is the economy making its own bad news, are we perpetuating it, or both? It does not really matter, but what does is the power of the news. Much has been written about the demise of the traditional news business amid 24×7 bloggers, citizen journalists and social media, but mass media still drive perception, awareness and therefore collective mood. If CBS News reports that this month’s jobs figures are below expectations, the market reacts. The CBS report will then proliferate into thousands of others through a myriad of new channels.
At the same time, the press are driven to cover more news more frequently. A PewResearch study on the media’s depiction of the economic crisis between February 1 and August 31, 2009 found that, “The press itself triggered nearly a quarter of stories (23%). Conversely, union workers and ordinary citizens combined to act as the catalyst for only 2% of the stories about the economy.” The top triggers were businesses and the White House, but the media drove nearly a quarter.
To read the rest of this post, go to www.inkhouse.net/the-influence-of-bad-ne...
Thursday, July 7, 2011, 9:45 AM
What is the purpose of a press release? When I studied PR at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School, we learned that a good press release should be able to slip from a PR person’s computer to the desk of an editor of a U.S. daily newspaper and into print…without major changes. The goal was to write like reporters so that they could easily publish company news.
In that same class, I learned editor’s marks and studied the AP Styleguide like my GPA depending on it. It did – I lost a full letter grade for each error in my press releases. Luckily, InkHouse has Steve Vittorioso to keep us up to date (see his recent posts on the new AP Styleguide and common errors).
As a hungry account coordinator just out of school, I was disappointed when I quickly discovered that newspapers never published press releases. The press releases we labored over were consigned to currency between PR professionals and journalists – the mechanism for sharing news. Newspapers and other publications almost never published content from our press releases, until recently.
Social media, RSS feeds, and blogging have given the press release new purpose. It is still very much a currency between PR professionals and the media, but in many ways, it has reclaimed its intended place as primary content. As bloggers and reporters race to pump out news stories, we are seeing our press release content printed verbatim. It might not be word for word, but a paragraph here and a sentence there straight from a release, mixed in with some color commentary is fairly standard.
That is good news for companies. Their content is read more widely and they get to control much of the message.
However, this also means that we must change the way we write press releases. In that same college class, I learned to write press releases at a third grade reading level – the lowest common denominator. We were writing for the average American. While it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the average technology or business reader, there are some important lessons for crafting press releases.
Brevity draws readers.
Creativity keeps them.
Plain language helps them remember your message.
Whether you’re using a short-form, bulleted press release, or the traditional model, a few new (and old) rules apply. These will help you avoid the cynicism of reporters who’ve grown fatigued by the daily fire hose of press releases in their in-boxes. It will also help reach your audiences directly with your message in a way that they will remember.
- Use plain language. Sure, you might be in the midst of a paradigm shift that will bring next-generation technologies to the market that will revolutionize your customer’s business by fundamentally reshaping the value chain. Just tell us what it does and why it matters. The five W’s still matter: who, what, why, when and where. In one or two sentences. Oracle does this very well, which is tough for many technology companies (see this example from its acquisition last month of Pillar Data Systems.)
- Don’t say you’re excited or thrilled. If the news is worthy of a press release, your excitement is implied. Quotes are one element of press releases that are more likely to be published than others, so don’t waste those words. Focus on why the announcement is important to your industry, not how you feel.
- Avoid leading with “ABC Company is a leading provider of ____.” The first sentence is your opportunity to grab your audience’s attention, not lull them to sleep with your accolades. You’ll have an opportunity to fill in your credentials after you get someone to read the first paragraph. Facebook’s recent announcement that Reed Hastings has joined its board of directors is a good example of putting the news up front and the details further down.
- Make Your Headline a Headline. Earlier this year Groupon announced its financing round with this headline: “Groupon Raises, Like, a Billion Dollars.” Many media outlets picked it up word-for-word, including Fortune, TechCrunch and Forbes. Headlines are meant to draw attention, so make sure yours does. You can check out more headline tips in my post on Why Ozzy Osbourne and Amnesty International Work Together.
- Keep it brief. First, blogging was the new newspaper article. Then Tumblr was the new WordPress. Now 140 characters is the new everything. Brevity is the sole of clicks (and wit, of course). The odds of a reporter or your customer reading past the first few paragraphs of your release are low. Instead of packing in every single detail about your new offering, focus on the highlights and link through to more details. Not surprisingly given its focus on simplicity, Apple’s press releases are always short.
Thursday, June 23, 2011, 2:48 PM
In the early days of my PR career, I remember standing in the mailroom with a stack of a hundred or so cover letters sending out blast faxes to newsrooms as our press releases crossed BusinessWire. That same time period saw me making late-night runs to Logan Airport where the very last FedEx pick-up happened around midnight as I rushed to get the five boxes of press kits we’d been stuffing that evening to Las Vegas in time for the opening of NetWorld + Interop the next day. Inevitably, we’d outsource the press kits, receive them in the late afternoon and discover all too late that a page was missing, so we’d take them all apart and redo them ourselves.
I can’t remember the last physical press kit I’ve seen or the last fax I’ve sent to a reporter. Today, our addiction to email and social networks has fundamentally changed the way in which PR professionals connect with reporters. We used to call pitching “smiling and dialing” when I was just out of college, but caller ID put a quick end to stalker style PR. And that is a good thing. It means that relationships, research and quality content matter now, more than ever.
While many can argue the inherent lack of wisdom in 140 characters, the need to cut through that din with thoughtful, compelling and differentiated points of view makes public relations a more exciting place to be. We have to be more creative and know our facts like never before. So without further ado, following is my list of the six ways in which I believe PR has changed for the better:
- Blast emails are going the way of blast faxes. No one likes any kind of bulk mail. They never have. I remember building long lists of reporters’ email addresses so we could send out our press releases when they crossed the wire. Inevitably, the mail merge wouldn’t work and Jane received a message that began with “Hello Frank.” Thankfully, this is (almost) a thing of the past. We don’t allow blast emails at InkHouse. They don’t work. Personal emails related to a reporter’s area of interest have always been the best route and today, it’s the only route.
- Quality content matters. We used to struggle for the press to tell our clients’ stories in the words we’d like them to use. Today, the opportunity for quality content is practically endless. Companies have a vast opportunity to seed, syndicate and curate their own points of view and position themselves as the thought leaders they are. However, the only way to do this is to have something interesting to say that is truly differentiated. It’s not enough to agree with your peers.
- New channels. In between press releases, we used to rely on trend stories, customer case studies, speaking engagements and awards to maintain momentum and buzz for our clients. These tools are still important, but social media and blogging open up new channels every day. There might be a community just for cloud-based customer service that is eager for content. You may have a blog post on mobile travel technology for executives that Forbes wants to publish. Or maybe your point of view on the Groupon IPO is so unique that you are lighting up Twitter and the LinkedIn Groups about daily deal sites. Opportunities are out there, and they can drive real engagement, conversations and even traffic. Good PR people know how to find them, and how to engage in them.
- Relationships matter more. Media relations has always been about relationships. I have always believed that PR professionals should treat journalists as clients – we should help source information and experts even when it does not benefit our own companies or our clients. Social media has made relationships easier, which is the good news. However, you have to participate to be in those conversations. Yes, Twitter does matter for PR professionals! It’s a different kind of relationship, but suddenly, PR people have instant access to real-time information about reporters’ stories, opinions and deadlines. If we pay attention, there are volumes of useful information. The trick is organizing the onslaught into something easily perusable – I highly recommend Twitter lists organized into Tweetdeck columns!
To read the full post, go to www.inkhouse.net/six-reasons-pr-has-chan...
Tuesday, June 14, 2011, 1:02 PM
When I lead social media training sessions, I get the most questions on the slide about Twitter terminology: RT, MT, PRT, CC, HT (check out our cheat sheet). For everyday Twitter users, these are second nature, but the terminology and protocol get people caught up in the reservation that Twitter participation requires immersion in a foreign language. Knowing these terms often feels like a secret handshake in a private club. But it shouldn’t be that way.
The next questions always focus on dos and don’ts. I tell people that becoming active on Twitter involves the very same principles you might apply to attending a networking event. Dan Zarrella at Hubspot recently created a great infographic with some basics about getting followers that drives this point home. Following are my tips:
1. Be yourself
Zarrella cites the importance of a photo (of yourself, not a flower, city scape, dog, or favorite food) on your profile page, but it goes beyond that. If you aren’t tweeting about things you care about and about which you have an opinion, it will be obvious.
2. Respond when people talk to you
If someone says hello via an @ message, a retweet (RT) or a direct message (with the exception of automated DMs), respond. It’s appropriate to say thank you, enter a conversation, or express enthusiasm for the connection. Like networking, Twitter is a place for conversations and connections. Foster both whenever and however you can.
3. Avoid direct sales pitches
Don’t do them yourself, and feel free to ignore those who do. At a networking event, you try to build a relationship before sending someone your sales brochure. Do the same on Twitter. There’s nothing that turns someone off more than receiving an auto- direct message with a link to sales collateral. These tend to come from Twitterers who follow many thousands of people, and have roughly the same number of followers. I have a hard time believing that these people have quality followers, and their auto-direct messages after my follow convince me that no one is personally managing their conversations. I respond to these auto-DMs with an immediate un-follow.
4. Beware of fake followers
Go for quality, not quantity. A few weeks ago, I gained about 30 new followers in two hours. Each was a pretty girl who was following roughly 10 times more people than were following her, had tweeted a maximum of three to 10 times about things that sounded good on the surface but did not make a lot of sense, was located in a random small town in Maine or Kansas, lacked a biography, and had joined Twitter a few weeks prior. No need to follow these handles back. They are probably robots. While I don’t normally block these followers because they naturally drop off if I don’t follow them back, this experience motivated me to exercise my right to block.
5. Don’t be a stalker
If you mention another person in a tweet through an @ message, great. If they do not reciprocate, let it go. Your shining opportunity might be that person’s blatant sales pitch. Send one @ message, and if that does not elicit your desired response, move on. There will be lots of other opportunities to tweet and be retweeted.
To read the last four tips, go to www.inkhouse.net/tweet-like-it%E2%80%99s...
Friday, June 10, 2011, 3:44 PM
Brenda Ueland published the book If You Want to Write in 1938 and in it she wrote, “…the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp staccato ideas, such as: ‘I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’ But they have no slow, big ideas.”
I frequently find myself “briskly doing something.” Scrolling through my 15 Tweetdeck columns, cranking out a blog post before others get into the office and my meetings begin, checking email while I’m waiting for my sandwich at lunch, or squeezing in one last conference call on my drive home – this is the substance of many days. I do PR after all.
And we live in a world that places value on busyness. It’s a powerful validator for eager entry-level employees and top CEOs alike. This isn’t going away. When I meet teenagers who send thousands of text messages per month, I see the future of multitasking taking hold. A part of me embraces this because I operate at my most effective when I am busy. So I must be important, right?
That does not have to come at the cost of creativity, which is requisite for any kind of innovation, including even the smallest operational changes that can have enormous impacts. We need to create the space (physical or mental) from which the ideas that roil along the edges can sprout. I’ve never had a great idea while staring at my email.
Following is a short list of some approaches to fostering creativity that have inspired me, including a few others that are working for us here at InkHouse:
Encourage differing points of view. Netflix has one of the most interesting company values statements I’ve seen. It is based on “Responsibility and Freedom,” and inspired some of our own InkHouse values. Click here to see their statement.
- Stay open to experiences, approaches and ideas. My brother-in-law is an IP attorney for pharmaceutical companies. I have yet to find an experience that he has not appreciated in a fundamental way, and as a result, I frequently seek out his perspective in times of difficult decisions. When I was in New York with him earlier this week, I was talking about creativity and noted that PR people must maintain a steadfast discipline in our to do lists. I surmised that the best scientists he works with must be extremely detail oriented and disciplined in their work. His answer surprised me. He said that while they are disciplined, the best scientists are the most creative – the ones who look at a process in a new way.
- Let people collaborate. When we looked for office space a few years ago, Meg and I wanted a workplace where collaboration could thrive, so we focused on an open layout. If you come to our space at the Watch Factory today, you will find people standing up and asking for a collective opinion about a campaign, a pitch, a bylined article, a new company name, etc. This impromptu brainstorming has birthed some of our most successful campaigns.
To read the other tips, go to www.inkhouse.net/making-space-for-creati...
Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 10:45 AM
As the embargo debate heats up, many members of the media are placing themselves on either side of the issue. For those unfamiliar with the embargo, it is a tool PR professionals use to provide all reporters with equal time to cover a story, and to enable them to do their research in advance of the news becoming public. This is very much a handshake agreement that has been broken so often at this point, that many in the press are simply opting out.
The system is obviously broken, so we at InkHouse are on the hunt for a solution. We’ve asked a few journalists – Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb, Scott Kirsner of The Boston Globe, Wade Roush of Xconomy and Jon Swartz of USA Today – who have agreed to join me for a conversation about embargoes.
We’ll be talking on June 1 and I will post the highlights here shortly thereafter. In the meantime, I have assembled a list of potential alternatives to the embargo, which follow below. Please add your suggestions in the comments below. We want this to be a session that is representative of the issues we’re all facing with the embargo. We’ll be tweeting about this using the #embargo hashtag, so feel free to join in the conversation.
Potential alternatives to the embargo:
- Exclusives. Are exclusives a good alternative? In which scenarios? Are you more likely to consider news from a smaller startup if you are offered it exclusively?
- Distribute the news as it happens. How would you feel about receiving the news as it crosses the wire? Does this make the news instantly old? Does it limit your interest in longer, in-depth stories? Would you need a new piece of information to do a longer story?
- Advance notice that news will happen (without providing the details). How would you feel about notification that XYZ company will be making a product/financing/merger/etc. announcement on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. without hearing any more detail until the time of the announcement? Would this help you plan for the news or would it be the same as distributing the news as it happens?
- Advance copy of the press release without an embargo. In this scenario, you would receive a copy of the press release 2-3 hours in advance without the restriction of an embargo time. All of the target media would have the same notice. To me, this seems like it would create a mad dash to post quickly (assuming the news is interesting), but it does provide an opportunity to cover the news as it happens with a little bit of notice? Would you be angry then if another outlet posted a piece first?
- Press conference. What about getting a little retro and holding a press conference call (for all invited media) a few hours in advance of the formal news during which you could ask questions and after which you would receive the formal press release?
These are just my starter ideas. I'm collecting others here -- just add yours into the comments: www.inkhouse.net/should-the-embargo-go/
Friday, May 13, 2011, 12:20 PM
Reporters sometimes complain about the staid phrases PR people use in their pitches, rightly so in some cases. Erica Swallow at Mashable has a post on this topic, which inspired the InkHouse team to write the worst pitch we could think of during one of our recent FOFs (forced office fun for anyone who doesn’t work here).
Granted, we’ve all used pieces of some of the phrases in our pitch below. When I write, “I hope you are well,” which I often do, I mean it. And sometimes my emails end up in someone’s junk folder, so I am genuinely concerned that it did not come through.
The difference is authenticity and simplicity. The late 1990s and early 2000s led the marketing world into a frenzy of buzzwords (see my post from December 2010 on the buzz words we should eliminate from our vocabulary). Social media has changed that for the better. We now understand the importance of telling stories in simply phrases that actually mean something to their intended audiences. We are heartened by the recent surge back to the basics of good storytelling, which Meg outlined for us in April.
In homage to our friends in the media, following is the worst pitch we could write. Enjoy, and we promise that it will not be coming to your inbox any day soon.
To read to pitch, go to www.inkhouse.net/the-worst-pitch-we-coul...
Friday, May 6, 2011, 12:42 PM
This morning Wade Roush of Xconomy posted a piece on embargoes. He’s not going to agree to them anymore, which is different than not honoring them. Wade told me that, “I will stop agreeing to them. If I ever did agree, I would certainly honor the agreement.”
This is a debate between PR and journalists that has been going on since TechCrunch famously announced that it would no longer honor embargoes. We’ve written about the topic here at InkHouse a number of times – we’ve written about how embargoes can damage relationships and we spoke with Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe about his perspective on embargoes and exclusives.
As Wade points out, the embargo is designed to provide all reporters with equal time to cover a story, and to enable them to do their research in advance of the news becoming public. This handshake arrangement between the media and PR works, but only if everyone honors their word. And as Wade has written, this does not happen all of the time. We see frequent tweets about TechCrunch breaking embargoes, and internally we bemoan the fact that someone clearly did not understand how TechCrunch and other technology blogs operate when it comes to embargoes. It’s critical to understand who honors them, who does not, and the difference between an embargo and an exclusive.
Keeping track of the list of reporters who don’t honor embargoes is a new challenge for PR people. It’s an ever-changing list, and frequently gets updated when someone breaks their word, and it’s created an environment where exclusives are more popular because they eliminate the problem altogether. In some cases, exclusives make a lot of sense, but in others, they reduce the amount of awareness for our clients because it eliminates a larger pool of media who might have covered the news.
To read the rest, go to www.inkhouse.net/?p=574&preview=true