I’ve been asked many times what it takes to be successful with a business to government PR program. And it’s true -- government media relations require a slightly different approach.
So, without further ado, here are my top five ingredients for B2G PR success.
Most successful public sector tech companies have a dedicated local resource that serves as spokesperson and the face of the public sector group. This person is often the VP of public sector (but it doesn’t have to be) and can easily talk about how the company’s technology maps very directly to key federal initiatives. These people speak at local conferences, win awards, and are very present in the market.
Most technology companies need to modify their messaging (at least somewhat) to appeal to the government market – and this requires more work than simply replacing the word “business” with the word “organization” in a company’s marketing materials. To be successful with PR, a company also needs to articulate how their company helps government comply with specific mandates or is aligned with government programs.
As part of the messaging process, we also like to understand what customers, if any, we can mention publicly. Customer references are the life-blood of a PR program, but they are incredibly hard to secure in the government vertical. In the absence of a reference, it’s nice to know who we can name (even if we can’t offer them up as a source). As a back up plan, consider if there are channel partners or integrators that we could offer to the media to provide outside validation for your solution.
One of our goals with any public sector program is to demonstrate momentum. Even without customer announcements, it can be useful to announce new channel or technology partner relationships, contract wins, and government certifications (such as FedRAMP, Common Criteria or Army Certificate of Networthiness announcements). These types of announcements might not be big drivers of media coverage, but they are very useful for sales teams seeking to demonstrate traction in the government market.
A desire for content isn’t unique to public sector PR, but some content is more valuable than others in this vertical.
- Surveys: We work with a lot of survey data as part of our public sector toolkit. In general, the media is very receptive to this type of data, especially if we have at least 100 qualified respondents. The defense sector is particularly interested in defense-only data, to the extent that it is available.
- Federal blog content: The government media isn’t always interested in product news, so blogs are prime vehicles through which to share why the federal audience, in particular, should care about new products. FedTech publishes a list every year of Must-Read Federal Technology blogs, which also includes well-written vendor blogs.
- Visuals: We’ve gotten direct requests for visual elements (art or photographs) to go with published authored articles and survey data. The public sector publications have limited art budgets and appreciate custom visuals to accompany stories.
Good luck with your public sector PR programs and please weigh in if you have other suggestions for the group.
At the beginning of the year we began working with a new client, TandemNSI, which is a public/private partnership between Amplifer Ventures and Arlington Economic Development, to bridge the gap between national security agencies and entrepreneurs of forward-thinking technologies, or "non-traditional performers." I've written about them before, not just because they are a client, but because what they are doing is critical to our country's national security and the commercialization of new technologies.
This is not intended to be shameless self-promotion, but rather a hat tip to the successes the organization has accomplished in a short period of time.
This past week, the Executive Director Jonathan Aberman (see our Influencer Q&A) released a white paper, the third written on the topic, entitled Building a Bigger Tent for Technology Innovators: The Government Is More Creative than You Think, which takes a deeper dive into what government and business can do to solve this greater problem. There has been such interest in this that national security agencies have taken notice, and the community supporting this effort has grown to nearly 1,000 people.
The mission began as Aberman realized there truly was a gap in how the agencies could engage with entrepreneurs who didn't understand the complexities, nor the pace of the government procurement process. The agencies wanted to know where to look to find the entrepreneurs that were developing spot-on products in the commericial world.
Jonathan would argue there are several main data points that drive toward the mission:
1. The nation’s security is threatened by not engaging with non-traditional sources of innovation.
2. National security agencies have tried some experiments to engage and the experiments have been successful.
3. The experiments have required, in some cases, super human effort on the part of agency personnel or Congressional acts on a one-off basis.
4. We now have tools to solve a big problem: how to engage nontraditional performers in a really big way.
TandemNSI stoked the fire by introducing the concept and the vision through several sold-out events featuring government and industry panelists, product demonstrations, and even a venture advisory service...helping emerging firms with innovative intellectual property to successfully engage with government.
We are halfway though the year and they have surpassed the goals and milestones it set for itself. It's refreshing to see public sector and the commercial world engaging in a way that benefits us all!
David Stegon from FedScoop/StateScoop recently recorded a podcast that captures the essense of the mission, and discusses the highlights of the white paper. Take a look!
Oher validators: The Washington Post published Jonathan's commentary: "Region’s national security agencies are where our entrepreneurial focus should be." Rita Boland at Signal Magazine discussed Connecting Private Innovation and National Security. The Huffington Post included his editorial stance with the article "We Need To Stop Burning our Furniture to Keep Warm" and Jill Aitoro and Bill Flook at the Washington Business Journal wrote several times about TandemNSI, and why it is the next big idea, and what it took to get it started.
There is a great new program coming up next week on August 7th, where leaders from national security agencies and industry will come together for a panel celebrating the successes they've seen from working in tandem. Here are some details if you want to learn more:
Discuss: The Government is More Creative Than You Think
August 7, 2014
Basic Research Innovation and Collaboration Center | Arlington, VA
- Mike Daniels, former chairman of Network Solutions (1995-2000)
- Dan Doney, Chief Innovation Officer of DIA
- Mike Geertsen, Program Manager for DARPA
- Fernand A. Lavallee, Partner at Jones Day.
Hope to see you at the next event, or just sign up to learn more and get involved! Excited to see what the second half of 2014 will bring!
--- Elizabeth Shea @eliz2shea
Wait! It's August already?
DC has a reputation for a serious summer slow down in the last month of summer, but that doesn't feel like the case this year. Here are the events that are on my radar:
8:00AM – 11:00AM, Wednesday, August 6
AOL - 22000 AOL Way, Dulles, VA
TandemNSI "Discuss: The Government is More Creative Than You Think"
7:30AM - 9:30AM, Thursday, August 7
Basic Research Innovation and Collaboration Center, 4075 Wilson Blvd, Suite 350, Arlington,VA
Startup Grind Washington, DC Hosts Vint Cerf (Internet Pioneer, Google)
6:00PM - 9:00PM, Tuesday, August 12
25 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, 9th floor, Washington, DC
8:00AM – 11:00AM, Wednesday, August 13
Loyola Columbia - 8890 McGaw Rd #130, Columbia, MD
DC Tech Meetup: Summer Drinks Edition
6PM, Tuesday, August 19
Penn Social, 801 E Street, NW, Washington, DC
DC Tech BreakfastDC Tech Breakfast
8:00AM – 11:00AM, Wednesday, August 20
Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD
What did I miss? Where will you be networking this month?
Remember that Coke ad from the ‘70’s, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke?” Well, thanks to their latest promotion, now you can.
The 128-year-old company has partnered with Regal Cinemas to use social media in a new-ish way----for sales. On Monday, Coke launched it’s newest promotion allowing users to “Tweet a Coke” by following 3 simple steps.
First, Twitter users verify their accounts and link them to a credit card, then spend $5 to send a coke to a friend. Finally, their friend redeems the small fountain beverage at Regal Cinemas Locations across the country.
Clever social media campaigns are nothing new to the Coca Cola Corporation, who publishes 1,322,000 tweets annually and has a presence on every major social network, but using social media for sales is a new direction.
Overall, I think the novelty of the idea is interesting, but after hearing about it from Intern Dan (thanks Dan) and doing some research, I have a few issues with Coke’s latest promotion.
- First—the price. While I’m sure that people in movie theaters will tweet cokes to their friends despite the $5, I think that significantly more users would take advantage of the promotion had the price been lower. Really, does $5 for a small fountain drink seem crazy to anyone else?
- Second---Coke’s own promotion. This is a social media driven plan and somehow the brand hasn’t tweeted about it at all! Sure, the news was picked up by everything from Mashable to Chain Store Age, but why wouldn’t they share the news and process directly with their 2.61 million followers?
- Third—the Starbucks of it all. In October of 2013 Starbucks launched a “Tweet a Coffee” promotion where, similarly, users linked credit cards to their twitter accounts to buy coffee. It makes sense that Coke would want to follow suit, considering Starbucks prompted $180,000 in purchases in the first month—but Starbucks also did it better. There are far more Starbucks locations than Regal Cinemas locations, Starbucks used their $5 limit for a gift card—not just a drink, and they actually leveraged social media for their campaign!
So tell us what do you think! Will Coke’s campaign be a success? Have you tweeted a Coke yet?
More and more, our clients are requesting that we use Google Drive as a way of easily collaborating with them on documents, spreadsheets and list – and you won’t hear me complain about that request. Google makes it extremely easy to have multiple people access a document at once, saving all changes and edits in real-time. And given that pretty much everyone I know already has a Google account, it’s a no-brainer to use the platform for sharing information with our clients.
A few weeks back, Google announced a major update to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides – making it even easier for users to get work done both at the office and on the go using Google Apps. The changes include three major feature updates:
- Edit and share Office files — without Office. Thanks to Google’s acquisition of Quickoffice, the company has now built Quickoffice’s technology directly into its apps – meaning you can open and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in their native format when in the new Office Compatibility Mode. This means no more clashes over people using different software and no need to buy additional software or agonize over trying to open a file that is not compatible.
- Suggest Edits in Docs. Google Docs has always made it simple for people to work together during the editing process– part of the reason why we love using the platform with our clients. But now you have more control over the changes someone else makes in a document. Using Suggest Edits in Docs allows users to make suggestions that can be accepted or rejected with a single click. It’s sure to speed up the editing process by preventing edits from being overlooked or having to send multiple versions of a document back and forth.
- Convert tracked changes to Suggest Edits. This is possibly the update that I am looking forward to the most. With this new feature, any Microsoft Word files that you convert to docs will now carry over any tracked changes made in a.docx file and show them as Suggested Edits. Once you’ve imported your changes, you can begin immediately collaborating with your colleagues in real-time. While this may seem like a small change, track changes are crucial in my day to day and one of the reasons I still relied so heavily on Microsoft Word. Knowing that I can have these edits shown in Google Docs will make me utilize the platform more often than I already do.
All of these new features are available today and are sure to make the editing process in Google Docs even easier!
I was recently searching for relevant reporters and publications for a new client media list
when I stumbled upon Gigaom’s new(ish) guest post policy. Released May 31, 2014,
Unfortunately (and I’m sure they aren’t the only publication), they grew tired of sifting through countless junk stories in order to find the few good pieces of content.
Per their post, “But increasingly, those voices have lost most of their authenticity…Wading through the endless off-topic pitches in our firstname.lastname@example.org email inbox is a chore I’m loath to ask any self-respecting editorial person to do anymore; sure, you can throw out the obvious SEO scams, but the deluge of PR-submitted guest posts (most of which are clearly ghost authored) we receive each week forces us to wade through considerable muck in order to find the very small number of gems.”
This isn’t earth-shattering news but it is a shame and brings up a few lessons we should all keep in mind when pitching and then writing an authored article for any publication.
Stick to what you know – Too many times, executives and PR personnel alike try to stretch what the executive or company knows to fit into a coveted magazine. Sometimes, we get it stuck in our heads that we have to be placed in a specific publication in order to hit real success even if it isn’t the best fit. As PR professionals, it is our duty to vet the real opportunities and advise our clients wisely instead of chasing every publication that accepts guest articles regardless of the subject matter.
Follow the editorial guidelines – You’ve vetted the opportunity, the publication is a fit and you have great expertise to lend to a topic the readership will really find insightful. Now you need to write the article. Have you looked at the requirements: word count, writing style, deadlines, and image/graphic guidelines? It’s important to read the guidelines first before bringing the opportunity to your client. If the publication requires data points but your client doesn’t have data to share, then it’s a moot point. Or you’ve spent time writing a 2,000 word article and then have to spend exponentially more time pairing it down to a mere 500 words because that was what the publication required. It would have been helpful to know these things from the beginning.
Promote thought-leadership, not a product – This may be the most important rule to follow. As noted by Gigaom above, overly promotional articles are giving both PR agencies and the companies they represent a bad rep. If you/your client truly have valuable information to share on a topic, it can be shared without mentioning a company/product name in every paragraph. It’s fine to mention the services or products similar to what your client/company provides but then stop there. Why are these services or products beneficial? What solution do they provide and what are key tips to know? Do you have data to support your claims? Even better. Save the promotional stuff for advertorials or paid opportunities. You’ll build a lot more credibility by being a thought leader, not an agenda pusher.
While it’s saddening that a publication has been forced to close such a great opportunity, maybe it will make us think a little more the next time we write a guest post. We’ll take the time to consider the publication, content, and readership. We’ll review the editorial guidelines and we’ll put more thought behind how we share our expertise.
Mobile is completely changing the way people consume information. Today, a message needs to be clear and concise, short and to the point, and honestly, might not even require words. It has to be easily and quickly recognized on a small screen as folks browse their mobile devices. Mobile is changing the way marketers and advertisers think, so why not PR folks, too?
I started thinking about this last week when Yahoo acquired Flurry, one of the largest and most well-known mobile analytics, monetization, and advertising companies for an undisclosed gigantic amount of money (hundreds of millions, according to a Forbes article and many others).
Now, utilizing Flurry’s real-time data analytics, Yahoo will be able to send super targeted ads to its mobile users – 450 million unique visitors per month on mobile – in hopes of making even more money by attracting more advertisers on widely used mobile devices.
The fact that advertisers and companies like Flurry collect all of your data and stalk you with ultra-targeted ads is another whole post. What I want to focus on, is the shift in how people are consuming information and what that means for the messages we, as PR professionals, are putting out for our clients and to the press - from press releases to articles and pitches, website content to messaging…and the list goes on. The point is, if people are getting their information from mobile, PR has to adapt.
Although it’s not at all a scientific fact and just my opinion, I think as attention spans are decreasing, PR peeps need to be even more concise with their messages. Articles will be shorter and more to the point, website content will be laid out differently than websites of the past and graphic use will continue to rise. Infographics have become almost a must have – an easy, clear and streamlined way to get your point across in few words that’s easy to browse.
PR is definitely shifting to have more of a focus on creativity – video, graphics and sharp headlines mean more than ever and the lines between straight PR and marketing are definitely going to continue to blur even more than they already have. Don’t get me wrong; many industries are still seeing a ton of value in traditional content, authored articles, whitepapers, etc. But, I think it is important that every PR program should be taking into consideration that its audience will probably be on mobile devices and factor that into the equation.
The calm before the crisis
About a week ago, we added a new puppy to our family. He’s a hound/lab retriever mix. Beautiful dog. Big brown eyes, nice soft coat, loves to play and really seems to enjoy his new home.
But for the past week, the Larmey household has been in a constant state of high alert. Our eyes have followed the dog as he wanders throughout the house, always wondering – is he going to do his business under the kitchen table again? He’s sniffing around the coffee table – does that mean he’s going to start chewing on the ends…again? And what about the cat? Is he going to eat the cat’s food…again…or try to play with him only to get a claw in his face…again???
Life with a four-month-old puppy is not easy. In fact, it’s actually very stressful.
But it can also be pretty darn wonderful, too, and provide one with immense joy and satisfaction. Look at how he loves to be rubbed on his tummy! Check out him tossing around the toy squeaky skunk we got him! Watch him go to town on that rawhide bone!
All of this before he ends up chewing the rug again.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does it have to do with the price of tea in China? Or PR, for that matter?
As it turns out, owning a puppy (or, rather, him owning you) is a lot like managing a crisis communications program. To wit:
You need to have a plan.
We had planned for years to get our dog – this was not a decision we took lightly. We had everything mapped out, too, in terms of the stuff we needed (crate, food, toys, leash, etc.). And we had talked to some folks who had owned or own puppies, so we had a rough idea of what to expect in terms of temperament, routines, and more. That’s helped immensely.
All that said, we’ve still ended up having to adjust. Big time. We’ve had to make arrangements on the fly based on what might be happening at a single moment.
It’s the same thing in business. Regardless of the size of your company, you need to have a crisis plan in place. It’s like insurance; hopefully you won’t have to use it, but in case you do, it’s there to help guide you through.
You need to be able to react quickly.
The dog will be running around, playing happily, then, all of a sudden…wait a minute. “No! You do that OUTSIDE!” And before you know it, I’m running to the kitchen to get the Nature’s Miracle and an old dishcloth.
When a crisis hits a company, it usually doesn’t just immediately die out – it can change over a period of hours or days, perhaps weeks. It can snowball into something bigger than it started out as.
The trick is to not let it get to this point. PR teams need to develop immediate response plans to nip things in the bud. And everyone in the company – from corporate spokespeople to customer service reps -- needs to be on board (kind of like when the dog jumps on the furniture, we all know the magic “DOWN!” command).
Remember: react quickly, control the crisis.
You need to be the boss.
Eventually, our puppy will conform to the rules of the house, and we’ll all be much happier for it. But, in order to get there, we need to train him. We need to take control.
It’s the same thing with crisis communications. The key is always to remain in control. Control the message and the way it’s conveyed. Don’t panic or deviate from the message. Keep it simple and to the point. Don’t put anyone out in front of the press who you don’t trust to deliver the message in an appropriate manner. And, again, get out in front of it early.
Following these guidelines will help prevent things from getting any worse. At least, that’s what I hope.
What are your thoughts on crisis communications (or puppies, for that matter)? Let me know in the comments below.
The early days of working with a new client are often spent laying a foundation that will help them achieve their communications goals. It’s often not the most glamorous time – but it can be one of the most important, as you build their program from the ground up.
Lately, I have been spending a lot of time creating and refining custom media lists for two new clients. As such, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the different ways PR professionals go about gathering the information we need to build the best media list for our clients.
Before I discuss the variety of tools and resources we use to build a media list, let me say this – a media list is never done. It is a living document – constantly evolving and updated. Or, at least it should be. Publications and reporters change and it’s our job to stay on top of those changes. We must regularly research, review and update the media lists we build for every one of our clients.
With that said, here is a sampling of tactics I normally draw upon when building a solid media list.
- Look at the competition. One of the easiest things to do is look at where a client’s competition is getting covered. Most companies these days have a “newsroom” on their website and will proudly display and list out who has covered them recently. If the publication/reporter covered the competition, I normally add them to my client’s list. (Side note: This is also a good way to vet authored article opportunities. If a competitor’s byline is atop the article then they wrote it, indicating that the publication accepts contributed content.)
- Rely on Google. Google has a wealth of information and should always be the second step in the list building process. I type in the keywords that matter to my client and search through both the “web” and “news” pages to see what kind of news is being written about my client’s industry. And if keywords aren’t returning the desired results, I rethink them.
- Visit news outlet websites directly. Most of the clients I work with know what publications are relevant to their industry and where they would like to be featured. Spending some time on the website searching for key terms and phrases helps turn up articles and relevant reporters that can be added to the list. Some outlets even make it easy and provide a list of their editorial contacts and beats.
- Enlist the help of a software program. Be it Cision, Vocus (soon to be VoCision?) Meltwater or Tech News (formerly IT Database), these databases exist to provide reporter and outlet information – including often difficult to find email addresses. They also include a variety of search functions to identify publications or reporters based on their geographic location, outlet topic, reporter beat, type of publication, etc. -- the list goes on. One caveat, though: these databases are often not as up-to-date as they might claim to be. In such instances, I always try to go back to point three to double-check.
So what’s your go-to strategy for building a media list? Did I forget anything?
"Today is the day we stop running."
Let's play a game.
Imagine for a second that your favorite hamburger restaurant just started giving away free hamburgers. Not as a special offer. Not as a frequent-customer reward. Just free hamburgers. All day, all the time.
You'd be pumped, right? Until you finally ate one, and you realized they'd replaced the meat with insect protein and toxic levels of mercury. In fact the product isn’t even called a hamburger anymore. It’s called “Verizon presents hamburger-related entertainment.”
So what's preventing this Orwellian future? Well, some of us, for now at least, outside of mainland China, are willing to pay for reasonably untainted meat. What we’re mostly unwilling to pay for these days is reasonably untainted news and information. So all of that mercury and insect waste isn’t going into our stomachs, but rather our heads.
(That’s not entirely a fair comparison. With online media, the cost per unit is negligible, so you can make a free model work a lot more easily. On the other hand, you probably only clicked this link because you thought you were getting a Wendy's coupon.)
So when and why did we collectively decide we’d pay for what we eat, but not for what we read?
I suppose it’s because what we read can’t literally kill us.
Then again, what we read affects how we think, behave, and interact with one another. It affects the rise and fall of nations, and the very fate of the planet. (What we eat affects little more than our own digestion.)
"Sure, you could get a version of the news that doesn't serve my own financial and political interests... for an additional dollar! Mwahahaha."
The more I think about this, the weirder it gets. We’ll not only pay for food in this country, we’ll pay for ridiculous food.
From The Today Show online:
“The 12-inch Luxury Pizza at Nino’s Bellissima in New York City costs a whopping $1,000, which breaks down to $125 a slice. The restaurant needs 24 hours' notice to create the pie because it is topped with six types of caviar, which have to be specially ordered. In addition, the pizza includes lobster, creme fraiche and chives."
Wait, what? That doesn't even sound good!
How much money does the average American spend on unnecessary food and alcohol each day? And yet the thought of spending 4 cents a day for a newspaper subscription is laughable to us.
Well, I'm sorry to have to show you this -- it's going to haunt you for years -- but this is where that line of thinking inevitably takes us. (Hat tip to Gawker):
That's the homepage of The Baltimore Sun from Labor Day last year.
This actually happened. And we let it happen while we were stuffing our faces.
So here's my thought: We take a tenth of our monthly cupcakes budget, and we spend it on legitimate news and information. We'll be smarter, thinner, and... nevermind, I'm gonna go get a burger.