L--R: Brian Reed, Good Technology; Elizabeth Shea, SpeakerBox Communications; Derek Johnston, Corning MobileAccess
The Marketing Alliance (TMA) held its second event of the year on March 20 with featured panelists Brian Reed (BoxTone, now Good Technology) and Derek Johnston (MobileAccess, now Corning MobileAccess ). The Hear From Your Peers style event had the two members sharing their experience leading a strategic marketing initiative with an ultimate goal of a successful exit for their startups.
Before we continue, here’s a bit of background on each of our panelists.
Reed is a journeyman entrepreneur, marketer and product guy. Formerly CMO of local Columbia-based BoxTone, he is now Chief Mobility Officer at Good Technology, which acquired BoxTone in March 2014. Reed has helped grow more than 10 early/mid stage businesses and turnarounds driving successful high value exits, often using marketing or product as the leverage point for acquisition. He is also one of the founders of TMA and a long-term board member.
Johnston has more than 15 years of marketing and sales leadership experience in the telecommunications industry. As the Senior Director for Global Wireless Solutions for Corning MobileAccess Inc., he has led strategic marketing initiatives for the past 5 years from brand transition through the acquisition to delivering an award-winning strategic product launch. In 2009, Johnston joined the MobileAccess leadership team to drive marketing and market development that assisted in the doubling of revenue for the late-stage interest in two years. Prior to Corning, Johnston led product management and marketing for Aptela (SaaS Provider), in addition to holding various leadership positions at Sprint/Nextel including managing the field marketing transition during the multi-billion dollar merger in 2005.
Both men were intimately involved with their company’s acquisition strategy and had the following tips for others who may find themselves in the same position.
Market to investors. For Reed this meant making sure the website reflected value to the investors and used language that would resonate with them. Phrases such as, “We’re #1 because…”, “We can help you solve these problems….” and “Fastest growing with recurring revenue…” play well with investors who are looking to better understand the company. Reed also spoke about bumping up the About section of the website and adding pertinent information to executive bios.
Keep analysts informed. One tactic that both men employed was making a point of leveraging their relationships with industry analysts. Keeping analysts informed enabled them to be a possible resource for investors.
Show the value of the sales force. This was a tactic that Reed had employed previously and found to be very successful. At BoxTone he made a point of marketing the value of the business to the sales force inside the potential acquisition organization and focused on telling customer stories, and how they sold their product to their customers, instead of product stories.
Determine what role PR can play. One of the biggest differences in Reed and Johnston’s strategies was that Reed found that PR wasn’t really moving the needle for BoxTone and chose to wind down their PR activities. For Johnston at MobileAccess the focus was on ramping up PR activities and brand awareness. Competitive analysis revealed that the company’s competitors weren’t talking about their large scale wins and this provided an opportunity for MobileAccess to highlight and showcase some of their marquee customer wins. Johnston also used this opportunity to demonstrate how MobileAccess was different than the competition.
Other topics discussed during the panel were the internal communications process – both companies kept their plans pretty quiet internally though there was some trickle down of information and the integration process – went fairly smoothly for both but there were a few hiccups here and there, which is to be expected.
It was a lively discussion and everyone in attendance seemed genuinely interested in learning a bit more about the role of marketing in an investment/acquisition strategy.
Were you at the TMA event? What were your big takeaways?
As PR professionals we often wonder how best to communicate with the journalists we pitch. Should we be trying something new? What should we be doing more of or less of? Without any good way to ask journalists what they really want we’re often left to our own devices and have to gauge reactions based on trial and error.
Muck Rack, a tool for journalists, PR professionals and marketers, conducted a survey recently that asked a lot of our questions for us. The focus of the survey was journalist’s habits and preferences, and gave insights on how to be more effective when you’re pitching.
Below are some of the most interesting statistics and ideas I took from the survey:
Journalists appreciate activity on social media, in fact 93% of them said that they appreciate when communications professionals follow them on twitter. That being said, journalists do not want to be pitched on social media. As PR pro’s we’re constantly thinking of new and fresh ways to grab journalists’ attention, but an overwhelming majority (92.8%) of those surveyed said that they would rather simply receive an email. Only 1.8% of journalists surveyed said that they preferred to be pitched via Twitter and a whopping 0% picked LinkedIn or Facebook as their preferred method of receiving pitches. Let’s all stick with the odds and give the journalists what they want.
Journalists have schedules just like the rest of us. They organize their day in the order they need to get things done, so it does matter when you pitch them. 70% of journalists said that they would like to be pitched before 11AM, while they’re planning their stories for the day.
Ah, this is a topic that we as PR professionals are all too familiar with. We have all sent pitches that were left unanswered, and in turn were left with questions of why they were ignored. According to Muck Rack the #1 reason journalists immediately ignore pitches is the lack of personalization. Journalists can tell when you’re copying and pasting the same pitch to your whole media list. Take the time to do research on the journalists that you’re targeting. Referencing their work and what they’re typically interested in (without sucking up to them) will get you much further than a cookie cutter pitch.
A close second to unpersonalized pitches is pitches that are too long. Journalists are busy and don’t have the time (or attention span) to read your narrative, no matter how well written it is. Channel Michael Smart and keep your pitches short and sweet. Trust me, condensing your message to 100 words will ultimately make life easier for you and the reporter.
People, it’s 2015. Chances are they received your email. Sending a follow up asking if a reporter got your email is just going to make you look like you don’t know how computers work. That being said, 67% of journalists prefer that you do send one follow up incase they skimmed your pitch and forgot or just haven’t gotten back to it yet. Keep your follow up email to a very short reminder and remember that only 5% of those surveyed said that they’d want more than one follow up.
After the Story
Reporters like to know that you’ve read their stories and you’re sharing them. According to the Muck Rack survey 88% of journalists pay attention to how many times their stories have been shared across social media. When you get a placement be sure to share it across whatever channels are available to you, trust me they’ll remember. Pro tip: if you mention the journalist and/or publication in your tweet they will often retweet it.
This wasn’t mentioned in the survey, but based on personal experience it never hurts to send a thank you note to reporters after their story goes live. Letting them know that you appreciate the fact that they get hundreds of pitches a day and worked hard to publish a good article never goes unnoticed.
Personally, I appreciate these kinds of surveys that give us insight into what reporters are thinking and what they really want from us as PR professionals. Have you seen any interesting data about the industry lately? Feel free to share it with us in the comments!
This week, FedScoop hosted the annual “Security Through Innovation Summit,” featuring high-level executives from government and industry discussing topics as varied as innovation, mobility, big data, virtualization and cloud – as they relate to security.
There were several key themes that emerged during the daylong event that demonstrate how government is responding to the increasing sophistication of cyber threats.
- Elevation of cyber within the highest levels of government. As Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president & cybersecurity coordinator in the Executive Office of the President, noted in his presentation, the president is taking a personal interest in cybersecurity and wants to ensure that cyberspace remains a strategic asset for the U.S. instead of a liability. With the formation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center earlier this year, the administration is attempting to create an entity that is responsible for coordinating cyber threat assessments and sharing information with government security experts, policy makers and industry.
- Donna Dodson, Chief Cyber Security Advisor at NIST, also shared some insight about adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework within government and industry. Earlier this year, organizations such as Intel, Apple and Bank of America announced that they were using the framework – thereby providing use cases for other organizations interested in moving from a strict compliance model to one that emphasizes risk management.
- Industrialization of hacking. The growing attention on cyber risks within government is a direct response to the changing threat landscape. As examples of cyber espionage and threats by other nation states become public, corporate America is looking to the government for additional protection, information sharing and help. Several government speakers spoke of the “shared responsibility” for security and encouraged government and industry to collaborate as soon as threats are identified, rather than conducting the initial investigation alone and potentially leaving other organizations in the dark.
- Tools, models and philosophies are changing. A few of the panelists talked about newer technologies and approaches to the changing threat landscape such as application-aware security tools that are better able to flush out security threats or mysterious network traffic. One speaker suggested that the government adopt a DevOps approach, in which development happens so quickly that the environment is always changing and harder to penetrate. Many of the CIOs and CISOs on the Application Awareness Imperative panel seemed resigned to the fact that, “it’s not if your agency will be breached, but when.” This didn’t come across as defeatist, but instead meant to focus attention on the need to protect critical data even if the network were compromised. OPM director of security operations Jeff Wagner recently wrote a white paper on this very topic and encouraged his counterparts to adopt a “security through visibility” approach.
- New skills are needed. Given how much the security landscape is changing, there was a lot of discussion about the need for more security professionals that can handle both the volume and the seriousness of these attacks. McAfee Labs most recent report declared that there are 387 new threats every minute or more than six every second. The government is working to support this need through national cyber education youth programs, and workforce training initiatives such as the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, to develop a stronger workforce of cybersecurity professionals.
All in all, it was a highly informative day with speakers representing a wide range of government agencies and programs. We're already looking forward to next year.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about changesacross our local media landscape. It’s old hat now for long-standing publications to fold, extreme layoffs to happen over holidays, and for the few still-standing pubs to merge. Last week marked a different sort of sadness in the media world – Gigaom closed its doors, leaving its beloved readers and even its staff totally blindsided by the news.
Started by Om Malik, the tech media company was so much more than just another blog; it was the place to get technology news since its inception in 2007. Claiming more than six million monthly visitors and staffing more than seventy employees, Gigaom was known for its editorial integrity and deep research and analysis across all of its beats.
Over the last few days, there has been much speculation over the reasoning behind the seemingly abrupt closure. Gigaom released a note on their website that stated the company was no longer able to pay their debts:
“Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased. We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets. The company does not currently intend to file bankruptcy. We would like to take a moment and thank our readers and our community for supporting us all along.”
The question quickly became – how is it possible that a company who just raised $8 million in funding a year ago is already out of money? Especially since the company seemed able to run on $12 million over seven years. What happened? A former employee, Michael Wolf, gives a very insightful look at Gigaom’s history and where it (probably) went wrong so I won’t rehash it but do want to make a brief mention of what he considers a major source of the company’s downfalls - money. Monetization is a common problem for many publications. Gigaom’s legacy could provide a few lessons-learned for others trying to navigate through the process.
In 2007, in order to keep content ad-free to readers (as other industry pubs had taken the ad-click through route), Gigaom needed to find other sources of revenue. The dive into events proved fruitful but not scalable. Paul Walborksy was brought in as the new CEO to hone in on a revenue model, he had an eye towards paid content. Paul believed that the genuinely attached readers would be willing to pay for deeper insight into topics like cleantech, mobile and cloud. This would lead to the launch of Gigaom Pro in 2009, later becoming Gigaom Research, where writers and analysts dug into these topics and readers would subscribe and pay for the information. Similar reports from analyst giants Gartner and Forrester are highly sought after, but could cost a couple thousand dollars per report and subscriptions costs tens of thousands of dollars per year, far more than what Gigaom was charging.
In 2009, the company had three lines of business – the blog, events, and research. As a ventured-backed media company, investors wanted to see returns 10-fold. As the company grew each line of business, it meant adding more full-time staff (writers, marketing, sales, etc.), freelancers and part-time analysts. In addition, the company (including acquisitions such as paidContent) had high-dollar real estate that steadily climbed over the years, a reported total of $400k per month for all properties. The rent added to an exorbitant amount of overhead costs and for a company that was seemingly “growing,” had ultimately accumulated a lot of debt. The $8 million that was received just over a year ago quickly paid a large debt payment, leaving them very little to survive on.
Knowing all of this, why didn’t the company try to downsize staff or move office space to decrease overhead costs while it paid down debt? We may never know, but what is known is this tech media company is going to be sorely missed. Social media has been buzzing with tributes over the last week:
It may feel like 2015 is just getting started, but it’s already March and many CEO’s event calendars are already getting pretty booked up. Trips to visit customers, partners, and employees around the country and the world may rightfully dominate a busy CEO’s time, but it’s also a good idea to make it a point to get out and see what’s going on in the technology industry in general. That’s where this list of events comes in.
If you’re the CEO of a technology company that provides services to enterprises, these events might be well worth making the time for. Whether you consider them for speaking opportunities, networking, or simply for knowledge gathering, each of them can provide unique benefits and the opportunity to interact with your peers and potential customers.
Before delving in, it’s worth noting that while each of these events is geared more toward general business than a particular sector, the concept of a general business/technology event has broadened a great deal over the years. You can expect many of these to include discussions on topics that are applicable across many different markets. In other words, expect to hear a lot about the cloud, mobile, social media, and other types of digital innovations.
Date: April 21, 2015
Place: San Francisco
Put on by the same people who bring you re/code, Code/Enterprise focuses on the enterprise technology space. It will tackle a wide range of topics, including cloud, big data, data center infrastructure, marketing automation – basically the whole enterprise tech enchilada. The great news is that if you can’t make the first event in San Francisco, there’ll be another one in New York in the fall.
Date: May 26 – 28, 2015
Place: Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Man, those re/code folks are busy! In addition to the Code/Enterprise conference, they’ve also got this baby planned for the spring. This one will be hosted by famed journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. It’ll focus on digital technology and its impact on our everyday lives, which means both at home and in the workplace. It’s currently sold out, but a waiting list is available.
Bloomberg Technology Conference
Date: June 15 – 16, 2015
Place: San Francisco
Their website description says it best: “The Bloomberg Technology Conference will convene business leaders and influencers to better understand the way software is transforming business and fueling disruption across all industries.” ‘Nuff said.
Fortune Brainstorm Tech
Date: July 13 – 15, 2015
Place: Aspen, Colo.
It’s not just the west coast that’s getting the love; the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference is coming to Aspen this summer. Attendees will be a combination of technology leaders, investors, and customers. Plus, many representatives from Fortune 500 companies are expected to attend. If you need another reason, let me just say that even though Aspen’s known for its skiing, it’s absolutely beautiful during the summer.
Date: October 19 – 21, 2015
Place: Laguna Beach, Calif.
WSJ.D Live is hosted by senior editors from The Wall Street Journal and includes a who’s who of technology’s elite, from Tim Cook to Steve Ballmer. There’ll also be tons of investors, both speaking and simply attending. You’ll also get to meet Journal scribes, too, offering the potential for some high-profile coverage.
Bloomberg Enterprise Technology Summit
Date: TBD, but likely December
Last year’s Bloomberg Enterprise Technology Summit took place in December, so I’ll go with that here. Whenever it happens, one thing’s for certain: it’s a great place for you to immerse yourself in discussions about how the cloud, security, and regulations are impacting business. It’s also chock full of representatives from financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies, making for some exceptional networking opportunities.
This list is simply the tip of the iceberg, however. There are many, many other noteworthy events that will be taking place in 2015 and beyond. Some are still accepting applications for speakers, while others are soliciting award submissions.
If you’d like more information about how SpeakerBox can help with these and other events, including on-site interviews, speaking opportunities, and award submissions, please do not hesitate to contact us. And if you are considering attending an event, don't forget to download our "Pre-Interview Checklist"!
My wife descends from a proud lineage of ball busters.
Take her great grandfather, Frederick G. Vosburgh, former editor of National Geographic magazine.
So obsessed with scrupulous accuracy was Vosburgh that he famously stopped the presses in 1964 to insert a missing restrictive comma into an article -- a move that purportedly cost the magazine $30,000.
For a comma.
This was a principled man. A man who bore witness.
On the subject of honesty, he said this:
"Perfect objectivity is hard to achieve. So is perfect honesty. But we should not abandon the effort to attain either one just because perfection is difficult or impossible."
Of course today, it's hard to imagine any sane publisher hiring Vosburgh. (The missing comma story alone is kind of a deal breaker.)
"30 grand for freakin' punctuation? How the hell is that supposed to get me advertisers," my hypothetical publisher scoffs.
I like this hypothetical because it illustrates the one undying principle of journalism -- money talks.
Think about this:
We have a former client that based its cryptographic time-stamping business on a hash of random characters printed in the New York Times.
Why printed characters in the Times, you ask? Because once those characters get printed, they can't be un-printed.
And this is pretty much the basis for the integrity of print journalism. Care and honesty underwritten by the ugly marginal costs of ink and distribution.
Secure and stable. The money makes it so.
(Quick NFL-related illustration of the same point: Ryan Grigson's costly acquisition, Trent Richardson, remained an Indianapolis Colts starter for most of last season...)
Now the Internet age is much more mutable of course, with digital changes happening in real time.
So when they built the Internet, scrupulous men like Vosburgh created a fail-safe -- an easily accessible electronic record of the past.
And this, we thought, would be enough to deter those darker journalistic impulses -- laziness, innacuracy, plagiarism, hypocrisy.
But we got it wrong. It was never our reputations keeping us honest; it was cost.
And when we eliminated the marginal costs of making changes and issuing corrections, most publishers and editors veered swiftly to the Hakuna Matata philosophy.*
Recklessly irresponsible news reports? We call those high-performing click drivers. Misleading editorial conflicts of interest? We call that premium native advertising!
What are consumers going to do about it? Use our purchasing power to demand objectivity and accuracy in the news products that we... don't... actually... purchase... anymore.
Thanks again, Google.
Google, which near-singlehandedly transformed the economics of publishing, and in doing so destroyed the stability and security of a profit model rooted in objective devotion to the public's best interest.
That's a problem -- a potentially democracy-ruining problem -- that we all seem to be taking pretty much in stride. (Millenials are really good at this; we're the "even keel in the face of catastrophic revelations" generation.)
But cheer up -- we can absolutely fix this problem. We just need to start investing in punctuation again.
Maybe not $30,000 per comma. But what about $5? $2? Not switching browsers to avoid a 30 cent paywall after Kathryn's used up the last of her 10 free Washington Post articles for the month?
Better yet, there may even be a business case emerging for publishers and editors to emphasize the quality and accuracy of their own online content.
Here's a graphic posted this week from the American Press Institute:
In it, Wayne State University Associate Professor Fred Vultee presents scientific evidence that copy editing is "good for business," and that "audiences can tell when an article isn’t carefully edited, and it affects their perceptions about the news and their willingness to pay for it."
So that's the hope in all this.
Objectivity and accuracy can still matter. But only if we're willing to pay for it.
*Take lots of Sudafed until jungle animals appear to sing and dance, then make editorial decisions.
Recently, Emilie Kopp, content manager at SolarWinds graciously agreed to talk with me about her role at the IT management software company, how she manages content for multiple blogs, and the direction they’re taking as they revamp their blogs and work to start conversations instead of just pushing out information.
The majority of folks I talk to about content management have the reverse problem that Emilie does – they are looking for ways to motivate their staff to blog. But, Emilie is working to corral and manage MANY contributors and multiple blogs.
Read on to see how she makes it all work.
What is your actual job function and how does it relate to management of Geek Speak and the other SolarWinds blogs?
I’m actually one of the younger SolarWinds employees in terms of years with the company. I started in May 2014 and the role of content manager was actually a new role for the company. But, content management wasn’t a new concept for SolarWinds. Before I started there was a variety of people that held other roles within the organization that were meeting to try manage the way we created content for our own channels.
I am now leading this charge – of overseeing the creation of written content for our owned channels. By our owned channels I mean: our website, blogs, Thwack community, email, and social media channels.
What is your main focus right now?
There are a couple of blogs that we see the most active participation on and the one that we are focusing on the most right now and are actively building out a strategy for in 2015 is Geek Speak.
Geek Speak is what I’d classify as our main corporate blog. We want that to be a destination for IT pros to come and find answers to the biggest challenges they’re facing. It’s very much meant to be a shared conversation between SolarWinds employees and community members. Not only do our executives and Head Geeks contribute content but we also have Thwack Ambassadors who start conversations about what they’re experiencing as well.
We also have other blogs on the Thwack community that extend the conversation outside of just general IT best practices. Topics covered on these blogs would be a bit too in the weeds for Geek Speak where we try to keep the conversation less about products and more about solving problems.
There is Product Blog, where our product managers get involved in the conversation and provide updates about the products as they are released, how customers can get more out of the products, as well as information on product roadmaps. We have Announcements, a blog where we put out company news, awards, and other news. We also have a blog called The Whiteboard, which is one of the blogs we’re looking at possibly rebranding. It’s meant to provide insight from our executives and we feel like it could be highlighted in a better way.
Actually we’re reevaluating all of the blogs currently, it’s a big undertaking. First, we’re working to more strongly position Geek Speak and then we’re going to branch out and take a hard look at the other blogs to evaluate the mission, internal ownership, contributors, and other factors.
How often do you evaluate your blogs?
I don’t know that they had been looked at before now. I think the blogs were created very naturally out of the conversations occurring in our community and as a company we hadn’t really put too much definition or criteria around who could start a blog.
Now we’re working with our community team to look closely at who has the ability to contribute to our blogs and doing a blog audit. In 2015 we hope to put stronger definitions each blog’s purpose and place, and decide, given that propose, which blogs should exist and who should be the owner in terms of content publishing and scheduling.
For Geek Speak, specifically, how do you manage contributors?
Even though Geek Speak has been around for several years, in terms of having a defined strategy we’re still relatively new. Prior to my team taking ownership of the blog, (by ownership I mean we define what content will be published and who will be responsible for publishing it), we were on one extreme end of the spectrum in that we just made it open to anybody to contribute. Anybody who wanted to start a conversation or draft a post had the ability to do so. This was great in that we had gobs of content, but may have lost us some followers as well because the content was so varied and may have not provided real value to readers.
Now, we scaled it back, but I still don’t think we’ve found that perfect happy medium between open contributors and a very controlled contribution model. The way it exists today is that we have only a small amount of people who have the ability to publish to the blog whenever they want – that is our Head Geek team.
Head Geeks are our technology evangelists and defined into that role is to help IT pros solve their day-to-day challenges. These are the guys that are writing articles for publications and whitepapers for our website, so we know that anything they write is going to be ideal for the blog. In addition to that, we have our Thwack Ambassadors who we work with for content as well. For Thwack Ambassadors, we basically provide writing prompts and help them schedule the post, but otherwise they are open to share what they want about the assigned topic. We also still allow other SolarWinds employees to contribute, but they have to go through a much more rigorous process to get scheduled and approved. We have an editor-in-chief for the Geek Speak blog who keeps an eye on post frequency and topics. He works with all of the employee contributors to make sure they are hitting the requirements we have for content on that blog and schedule out their posts.
Normally I like to ask how you motivate SMEs to create content, but you have so many contributors it doesn’t look like there is any lack of motivation! How do you handle it all?
We never had an issue finding the right contributors for the Geek Speak blog because, at the very least, creating that content is written into the job description of the Head Geeks and Thwack Ambassadors – it’s not their full time job but it’s a large aspect of their job. And, the content they create flows directly out of what they do on a day-to-day basis and conversations they have with customers.
Yes, it’s still a lot of work. And I don’t know if we would put the same level of effort into all of our other blogs, but knowing that Geek Speak is the main corporate blog, the destination that customers and prospects would have in mind when they think of ‘SolarWinds blog’ we really want it to be a home run.
But, it’s also all a learning process. Yes, there are industry best practices that we employ but they don’t always work in every situation. Maybe one day we’ll decide that having five blogs doesn’t make sense and we’ll have categories on our main blog or we’ll decide the conversation about products doesn’t make sense where it exists and we need yet another channel. And we can do that. It’s flexible. We just have to be deliberate and thoughtful about it.
As you’re evaluating the different aspects of Geek Speak, can you share what exactly you’re looking at and what you’re thinking about as you work to make it a destination?
The two things we primarily look at to measure the success are reach and engagement. That will likely be common for almost any blogger that you talk to.
How many views did we get on this? Did people look at this? Did they care about it? And then the engagement is a reflection on whether or not the content resonated.
Part of our mission for Geek Speak is to leverage the community to drive these conversations, so almost every blog post we have (no matter who the author) ends with an open-ended question. I know this seems fairly simple but some blog posts have garnered more than 60 comments. If you were to go back and audit Geek Speak, you’ll easily be able to see which topics resonate with our audience just by the activity (or lack thereof) in the comments section. The hard numbers give us the justification to say that product-focused content doesn’t work on that outlet and we need to reconsider where it is published.
With reach and engagement being the main metrics you look at for the blog, how do those align with corporate goals?
My team sits under corporate marketing, and the corporate marketing objectives are built around brand awareness and reputation. So, having a bigger viewership and readership on Geek Speak relates directly to our brand reach and brand awareness. It also helps bring search traffic to our community and subscribers routinely bring traffic back to the site. The engagement metric actually reflects our brand reputation as well since the more highly engaged our customers are with the blog, the more share of mind that we’ve got and that we are establishing SolarWinds as their trusted advisor when it comes to solving IT challenges.
That’s interesting, because a lot of the marketers I talk to are really, in the end, asked to show how their efforts lead to sales. I know that sales is always the ultimate goal, but their blogs are constructed and managed with the goal of driving sales and if readers are not clicking on CTAs or moving down the funnel in an obvious way then it’s not effective. So it’s interesting to me that you’re able to really focus on reputation and brand awareness and it easily wraps up and ties into corporate goals.
It’s a longer-term play for us, for sure. And I don’t knock the blog mangers who are held accountable for having a direct impact on sales, because that is a tough job. It’s also one of the reasons why, in the past, we got caught up in having a blog post that focused on products and features and at the end had a call to action that linked to a product page. There was a recipe––a formula. And in fact, I’m working now to break that formula.
It was almost a cultural thing that we’re internally battling with. We’re trying to step away from having that direct, measureable impact on sales. There’s actually a more nuanced way to accomplish this and if we do it right, it’s going to pervasively power itself in the future, but we’ve got to start by building a critical mass, awareness, and a reputation as a resource where you can go to find information to do your job better.
I look to Hubspot and Eloqua as best in class blogs and maybe one day we’ll get back to a model where we do use CTAs that make sense. I think when you’ve provided your reader with value, if you’ve done your job well, you’ve positioned your products as part of the answer you can ask the reader to take the next step and address that part of the solution by clicking on a download, subscribing to a list, or checking out a product page. We’ll eventually get back to that kind of post, but right now we need to focus on just establishing our reputation and getting back the readership and engagement we want to have so that we can EARN the right to have that commercial conversation.
Lets talk about big data because, well, everyone else seems to be.
Many PR professionals I know tend to stress about big data for no other reason than there is so much of it, and they don’t know how to use it effectively. So, where do we start? Lets begin with the basics:
There are two main uses for big data in PR: planning and storytelling.
Using big data, PR pros can create data-driven client reports and strategies based on results from previous campaigns. Identifying which types of posts got the most attention, which blogs received the most clicks, and which garnered the most engagement is invaluable for coming up with strategies that resonate with your target audiences.
Your client has been aggregating usable data for as long as they’ve been online. Taking a look at this data and how it has changed over time makes it easier to create compelling stories about growth, industry change, and market trends.
Lucky for all of us who are better with words than data analysis, there are free tools available that make using big data for PR and social media planning much easier.
Okay cool -- but how do I get that data?
Google has great tools for collecting and analyzing your data, and while these metrics aren’t new, they are often under-utilized in our industry.
Google’s analytics platform measures every what, when, where, why, and how of your site visitors. These stats go a step beyond social media’s "vanity metrics" and track the assisted social conversations throughout the entire search and engagement process. Using that data, you can determine what an audience liked or disliked on the pages you manage, and in turn influence future outcomes. For example, you can incorporate the key words that resonated with your audiences into future pitches, outreach, and social media posts.
Google’s Databoard application is the company's way of sharing insights gained from Google research studies. It also has capabilities that allow you to create custom visual representations of your clients' data for reports or shareable infographics that will drive your target audiences back to your website.
I’m actually embarrassed to say that I just started using Google Trends, an awesome tool that lets you pull data about everything from Miley Cyrus to the most-searched chemical elements. Using this tool you can enter in your search term and track data trends by region, interest over time, and related information.
The point is, our job in PR doesn't end with a placement or creation of collateral like a white paper. That one piece of content can go so much farther by using big data analytics to create new pitches, infographics, or posts. Across the board, PR pros now have an opportunity to use data not just to create compelling stories, but to support positive business outcomes.
Earlier this year, US News and World Report issued two best job reports that ranked PR specialist among the nation’s best jobs – Best Creative Jobs in 2015 ranked it as number one and 100 Best Jobs put it at number 75.
Per the US News and World Report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 45,000 new architects, PR specialists, and art directors will be needed this decade. What’s more, employment in public relations is expected to grow 12 percent between 2012 and 2022, with an addition of 27,000 jobs.
While public relations jobs top many of the fun or creative job lists, it also tops many of the most stressful lists, such as the Career Cast “Most Stressful Jobs of 2014.” Public relations executives rank number six on this list, right up there with airline pilot (#4), firefighter (#3), military general (#2), and enlisted military personnel (#1).
So what is a PR specialist anyway? A PR specialist creates and maintains a favorable public image for their employer or client. They write material for media releases, plan, and direct public relations programs. The role of a public relations professional has really expanded over the last few years to accommodate the changing media and marketing landscape. Here are a few roles someone interested in PR could look into.
Many organizations seek a head of communications to develop messaging objectives consistent with the organization’s goals. If the organization doesn’t hire an outside agency (and sometimes even if they do), they will look for a skilled professional who has experience with internal and external communications of all varieties – crisis, media relations, analyst relations, strategy, etc. This person often has a seat at the executive management table to recommend best practices or strategy in relaying company information to the public.
A crisis can hit in many forms – a high-profile oil spill for a major company like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a key member of the organization or company coming under public scrutiny, or a food product company dealing with contamination recall. Establishing methods and policies to be used if an emergency should strike is key for this position. This could include policies and procedures for the distribution of the information to employees, media, government, and other key audiences.
Public relations professionals decide how the organization will repair the damage to its image, communicate how it is dealing with the problem and regain control of its message. This position often deals with high-stress accounts and requires the ability to stay cool under pressure.
An emerging ask of many public relation firms is to launch or maximize an organization’s use of social media to build or support its image. Managing a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, LinkedIn page, and a YouTube channel are all vital ways to connect with possible new customers or stakeholders. Monitoring public comments about the organization can also give early warnings of any emerging trends or problems.
This role popped a few years ago as a specialist position but is now moving toward being more a skill set that all PR professionals should have knowledge of rather than a position in and of itself. In addition, the management of social channels typically falls into the larger, overall PR strategy for the company.
A person in this position communicates mostly with the government and groups highly involved in societal (public) policies, action, and legislation. Unlike government relations, where the practitioner works strictly on behalf of an organization, public affairs is concerned with the effect of public policies, actions and legislation on its publics
Organizations that have strong ties to the community often hire someone to be a liaison to the community in which they serve to build a continuing community relations program to be comprehensive and effective. While these programs aren’t important for all organizations, those focusing on improving community relations will need someone who can bridge the business/community gap and enhance the organization’s image and reputation.
Content Management and Messaging
A person in this role often manages all internal and external messaging to define the corporate narrative and brand image. The person that fills this position typically has exceptional writing capabilities and is able to author powerful and thought-provoking white papers, case studies, keynote presentations, and thought-leadership pieces in addition to other communication initiatives like rebranding.
These are just a few of the avenues a person could take when navigating their public relations career. PR can take on many forms within a company or agency and many companies roll their PR initiatives into communications or marketing departments. Likewise, many agencies have multiple employees who are specialized in certain areas or have a broad range of skill sets to serve individual client needs. Over time, a PR professional will hone their strengths and find roles that support what interests them most.
In this next edition of our look at common types of public relations measurement, we will look at measurement based on ranking placements according to influence or significance of the publication to a given company and/or by the length and tone of the coverage (such as a mention vs. profile, etc).
What it is:
Ranking publications in a tier-like format is a practice that a few of our clients have adhered to over the past few years and it has worked relatively well for us (and them). What it does is break down publications into three (or more) primary groups: 1 for top-tier or feature profiles, 2 for secondary publications or round up stories, and 3 for lower-tier, more easily achieved placements.
Goals can then be set based on determining how many 1, 2, and 3 placements can be achieved in a given timeline. This method provides a more accurate look at what the placements mean to the company as opposed to just saying 6 placements were achieved in the month of January.
Additionally, the ability to pick what placements fall into the set categories helps to make sure rankings align with business goals. Companies can really look at what publications or types of stories would move the needle for them and rank them accordingly to properly set goals for PR efforts.
For example, rankings for one of our clients include:
- 1: A top-tier national publication OR an article in a key trade pub. Sure, a piece in the Wall Street Journal or similar top tier publication would be ideal – but chances are it is a long shot for the average company. So companies need to determine what their reach goal is, as well what type of stories would also be considered a major win and is a bit more achievable. In many cases, this could be an article in a sought after trade publication that profiles your company specifically, as opposed to a round up.
- 2: A trade publication specific to your industry or an important vertical. These articles will likely be seen by key industry players and potential customers that, as a result of the article, may become a lead. This might also include a profile article in a mainstream local publication or an authored article in a trade publication, which enables your company to fully tell their message and views.
- 3: A lower-tiered publication such as a local publication or one that has limited scope. While this type of news may not have a business impact, it will keep beating the drum and letting people your company has an ongoing stream of news.
A reason why a lot of our clients like this method is because it is numbers based – providing a clear-cut way to measure against goals. One of the hardest parts of PR measurement is the number of different interpretations there are when it comes to measurement. Assigning a ranking system leaves little wiggle room for higher-ups to determine if goals have been met or not and provides more insight into what coverage is doing for the company that a large list of placements.
Another benefit is that this form of measurement can be specifically tailored towards a given company. Most likely every company we work with has a different view of success and a different end-goal. Using a ranking system allows companies to determine what placements equal a success to them. Unlike other measurement systems that apply the same metrics across placement regardless of end-goals, a ranking system allows companies to think through which placements follow their definition of a win and enables the agency to measure against that standard.
With ranking publications, it is often hard to determine what pubs fall into which category. While this may seem like a simple task, it oftentimes is more difficult than PR professionals would like.
For instance, a story in the New York Times would undeniably be a win and a top-tier publication that we would rank a 1. However, if a story in Government Computer News helps to move the needle more for a company and ultimately creates more legitimate leads – should that also be considered a 1 even if it is less broadly viewed?
The problem then becomes, if rankings are set from the beginning of a relationship, there is no way to truly tell what kind of impact an article will have until after it runs and you are able to measure the increased web traffic, leads, etc. The best option is more of a guess and check method, whereas placements are analyzed after running and then it is determined between the company and agency where the placement should fall. While this is hard because the rankings are subjective – one person’s 2 may be another person’s 1 – hopefully there are enough facts to make a legitimate recommendation as to which category a placement should go under.
Additionally, with this method there would need to be a different system set up to measure non-placement goals such as social media, etc. as ranking is strictly limited to measuring media placements.
Overall, the clients we have worked with that use ranking as their form of measurement have been pleased with the method. Given that they are able to tailor the ranking to their definition of a success, it is unique to each client and makes it clear if these goals are achieved or not.
While there would need to be a lengthy conversation in regards to what makes sense for a ranking system, once that is determined if provides a more realistic look at the value of placement and the view of quality of quantity as a one-1 would likely trump six-3’s in an average month.