The Sounding Board

Celebrating the 2015 SmartCEO Brava Awards

Posted by LIsa Throckmorton on Fri, Jul 31, 2015 @ 12:07 PM

Brava_Group_ShotI was incredibly honored to be recognized at the 2015 Brava Awards last night.

The Brava Awards program celebrates female CEOs, nonprofit leaders and high impact executives who combine their irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for giving back to the community. The women that I was surrounded by last night are exemplary leaders of both their companies and their communities and encourage local philanthropy, mentor up-and-coming leaders, and set their companies on the path to tremendous growth.

The night was an awesome celebration of leadership, commitment to strong corporate culture, and dedication to employee growth. It made me exceedingly proud of SpeakerBox and our focus on the individuals that make up our awesome team and are core to our success. 

Speaking of which, I was beyond thrilled to have an awesome contingent from our team there to cheer for me (and really cheer for us). If there's anything that my career has taught me is that you're only as good as the people that you surround yourself with -- and we are very lucky as a company to have a team of kind, fun-loving, and hard-working communications and marketing rock stars.

Here's a little behind the scenes of our night (can you tell how much I loved the attention?):

 Champagne_ToastLT_Hates_Attention Brava_Award

You can peruse the inspiring stories of the women leaders that were recognized in the July/August issue ofSmartCEO magazine. Take some time to read through each one. I promise you will not be disappointed.

You can also watch the video on how we described our respective leadership styles and how we give back to the community.


Are We Partying Like It's 1999?

Posted by Josh Schimel on Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 18:07 PM

Are we experiencing another tech bubble? At SpeakerBox, we focus almost exclusively on B2B technology-focused companies or other B2B companies looking to tell a tech-driven story.

We’ve certainly been experiencing an increase in activity with our clients and have noticed a real uptick in companies approaching us to discuss working together.

Which of course is great! Although, not to be a downer, but are we partying like it’s 1999?


The answer is mixed, according to those who are much better at math than us PR pros.

Here in the Washington, DC area, Bisnow and DC Inno among others have weighed in. Bisnow’s Tania Anderson quotes experts who argue that tech “earnings substantiate the hype.” Plus, between the sharing economy, the Internet of Things, and the ever-present cybersecurity threat, they believe we’re on the cusp of even more transformative innovations. Another investor stated that we’re not in a tech bubble because the “price/earnings ratio for tech companies in the S&P 500 is actually lower than the P/E for the S&P as a whole.”

Perhaps most reassuring is the view that the companies we’re seeing with high valuations today (think: Uber) are well-led companies with great business models and plans for growth. Compare that to the dotcom busts where anyone and everyone was receiving money for their ideas, no matter how bad they were.

On the other hand, some of these companies may have great business plans but are still struggling to grow. Twitter’s earnings came out this week to the great relief of investors, but they can’t celebrate just yet, as monthly active user (MAU) numbers remain fairly stagnant.

When it comes to tech, the thought was “If you build it, they will come.” Now, the thinking is, “Yes, but how long will they stay?”

Still, DC Inno’s Chris Bing focuses on a widely shared presentation from Andreessen Horowitz gurus Morgan Bender, Scott Kupor, and Benedict Evans.

TL;DR: We’re not in another bubble; it’s different this time.

The presentation points out that “overall funding for tech startups is still nowhere near the level it reached during the 2000 dotcom burst.” Plus, they argue that tech companies are staying private much longer, which means they are growing and absorbing the ebb and flow of their businesses, and not just searching for a quick exit like many of the 1990’s era companies.

OK, but didn’t Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel warn of a tech valuation bubble recently, caused by expected interest rate increases? Shouldn’t Speigel know?

Over at VOX, the ever-interesting Mathew Iglesias has a sober assessment:

To the extent that low interest rates push up the value of VC-backed technology startups, in other words, that's an example of asset prices being driven by the fundamentals. It's the opposite of a bubble.

Now, what I think Spiegel means is that these conditions won't last forever. Which is true. Financial conditions never stay the same forever. But "future valuations will change in response to changing objective conditions" is a totally different claim from "today's irrational mania will evaporate and prove to have been a mirage."

So are we experiencing a tech bubble like we saw in 2000?

Probably not, and that’s good news for the tech community in DC and elsewhere. Still nothing goes up forever, bubble or not.

At SpeakerBox, we’ve noticed that tech companies are hedging their bets by expecting even clearer ROI on their communications and marketing spends. Bubble or not, whether it’s 1999 or 2015, that’s a smart move.

Topics: tech PR, Technology

The Communicator’s Roundtable Featuring Harold Burson

Posted by Michael Peterson on Tue, Jul 21, 2015 @ 09:07 AM

Burson resized 600

Ken Wincko, SVP Marketing at PR Newswire and Harold Burson, co-founder of Burson-Marstellar.

"Public relations is synonymous with persuasion and my belief is that PR was applied as soon as people communicated."- Harold Burson

Harold Burson is the godfather of PR. He co-founded Burson-Marstellar in 1953, now one of the largest public relations agencies in the world that employs over 2,000 people internationally. He has seen decades come and go in the industry and worked with household names such as Coca-Cola and Merill Lynch. Recently, he took part in a roundtable discussion, led by Ken Wincko, SVP Marketing at PR Newswire, to speak about the past, present, and developing role of public relations.

Burson started off the discussion by referencing Crystalising Public Opinion by public relations pioneer, Edward L. Bernays. He mentions that Bernays believes public relations to be comprised of two principle components: behavior and communications. With this view in mind, he proffered that today he sees far too much emphasis being given to communication while behavior has blended to the background.

Burson cautions that, as businesses are pressured to deliver maximum returns to shareholders year after year, public confidence in business weakens as organizational focus shifts from products and goodwill to the bottom line. Market goals are now, understandably, the linchpin of business, but it has come at the price of distrust among the public. Organizations must now also keep in mind the behavioral aspect of public relations, such as focusing on guaranteeing quality and corporate amity. This, Burson asserts, is the only way companies will see continuous, meaningful growth.

On storytelling in PR, Burson believes the caliber of content is still just as good as it was decades ago, but he does concede that individual storytelling has moved into the next stage of the continuum that began with word of mouth. However, now instead of talking to 10-12 people, we speak to hundreds of thousands at once. Digital platforms have multiplied our ability to reach audiences and with the proliferation of analytics information, we can now pinpoint our audience and fine-tune the people we reach and when we reach them.

Although independent mediums continue to change as credible thought leaders and news sources promulgate content through blogging, twitter and other platforms, it is up to the PR professional to foster relationships, continue to build transparent relationships, and utilize these new channels to create powerful messaging in a ever-changing media landscape. Burson notes that the power of word of mouth is still just as potent as it has always been and should not be overlooked.

There was one thing throughout the discussion the table remained unanimous on: PR professionals must, now and in the future, remain diligent in practicing with transparency and integrity. It is with these ethics in mind that Burson believes PR is at its best.

In just shy of an hour, Harold Burson illustrated the importance public relations not losing sight of its past moving into the future. As PR people, we must adapt to new platforms and trends to meet our audiences while holding steadfast to our values, making sure ‘behavior’ weighs the same as ‘communication’ to our clients. New technology platforms allow us to meet our audience with unprecedented speed, accuracy and scale. It is our responsibility to be mindful and learned of these tools to build relationships that instill confidence and promote truth and transparency.

photo credit via PR Newswire

Topics: Thought Leadership, PR Industry, PR Strategy, communications, Media Relations, public releations, Communicator's

Content Marketing for Lead Generation

Posted by Kate Hanusik on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 @ 19:07 PM

I’ve been thinking lately about how to better connect the dots between content marketing programs and lead generation. According to the B2B Content Marketing 2015 Benchmark report, 83% of marketers use content marketing for lead generation, but only 38% feel proficient at this discipline.

I recently came across an interesting report published by Act-On, called Attraction 101: 3 Essential Ways to Use Content Marketing for Generating Top-of-Funnel Leads that delves further into how content marketing supports lead generation activities. 


A couple of interesting stats from the report to start the discussion:

  • Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates 3X as many leads (Source: Demand Metric)
  • The most effective lead-generation assets cited for “getting the name” (or getting people to register) are: webinars - 77%, eBooks – 74% and white papers – 70%. (Source: DemandGen)

Act-On offers the following six tips to get started with your lead generation content marketing program:

  1. Determine your business goals: Make sure you know how many leads you need to attract and what the cost per lead usually is.
  2. Understand who you want to attract: What does your ideal customer look like?
  3. Create a content matrix: Conduct an audit of your existing content and where it fits on the sales funnel. Use this process to identify any gaps that you need to fill.
  4. Understand the type of content that works best for lead gen for your company: At the top of the funnel, content needs to be intriguing and educational.  Save detailed product information for later.
  5. Set up a campaign calendar: Identify each piece of marketing content that is needed, the timing and any outside costs.
  6. Develop a process for measuring and reporting: Act-on suggests the following metrics as a place to start – ROI and contribution to leads/sales, but they also suggest that marketers consider metrics like savings from reused content and social engagement as less obvious metrics.

The report then dives further into three different approaches for content marketing: search, social media and email. The report offers some great tips such as:

  • Write for your medium and provide a mix of content
  • Use calls to action to show the prospective lead what to do next if they are interested in learning more
  • Require registration for high-value content
  • If you’re just getting started with social, look to LinkedIn first.  According to CMI, 94% of B2B marketers rely on LinkedIn to share content – and 63% of marketers believe it is the best social tool for response and conversion.

If you’re interested in improving your content marketing skills, this report is worth a read.  As a bonus, there are lots of links to other resources and templates.

- Katie Hanusik


Topics: Content Marketing, Lead Nurturing

Media Training Tips for the Media Trainer

Posted by Jessica Lindberg on Tue, Jul 14, 2015 @ 12:07 PM


Media training is an important part of any PR program. While some may scoff at the idea and insist they don’t need media training, at the very least a crash course in how to talk to the media should be undertaken before media interviews are scheduled. 

As PR professionals, it’s our job to make the training as succinct and yet complete as possible. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the next time you take a client through media training.

Keep it moving – Executives are short on time and attention spans. Leaders of a company often have daunting workloads and requiring a day or even hours of their undivided attention takes them away from all of their other responsibilities. It’s important to make the media training relevant and engaging.

The agenda should limit the lecture time and instead focus on interaction. Think about real-life examples – show clips of broadcast interviews gone wrong and what a properly executed interview looks like. Let them pick out the good, bad and the ugly. 

While it would be ideal to have a few hours to walk through a complete media training, if time is limited stick to the basics. If nothing else the training should cover the importance of being prepared, company media policies, and then dive right into discussing media interview techniques. If time allows the rest of the training should spent on practice interviews – in-person, broadcast, and phone with video playback and discussion. 

Provide honest, but fair feedback – It’s import to have the participants practice each style of an interview (in-person, broadcast, phone) so they can learn the nuances of each. Having a video recorder on hand to tape the practice sessions with an immediate replay ability to review the sessions with the executives is immensely helpful. 

As the trainer, you’re there to be a trusted advisor and give constructive pointers in an effort to help the participants grow their skills. The video playback will also help them to pick up on things they may not realize they do such as saying, “um…” or not making eye contact, etc. If video playback is not available, group feedback and encouragement will be beneficial for the participants.

Keep it small - Limit the amount of executives participating in the group and break up the number of sessions if you have a lot of people to train. A smaller group (three to four participants) is less intimidating to stand up in front of to practice. It’s also easier for you as the trainer to get through the sessions and feedback while still keeping the other executives engaged. The other executives will often offer encouragement or tips when it’s a smaller group.

Do your homework – This tip goes without saying but come to the training fully prepared. This doesn’t just mean know what you’re talking about in terms of good interview skills but also know your audience. Learn what each of the executives is responsible for, why they might participate in interviews and what types of interviews they’ve done in the past.

Knowing the details will help as you conduct mock interviews. You’ll not only be able to ask questions about the company but also tailor interview questions on the spot to suit their strengths and know where to hit them with tough questions.

The goal with media training is to teach executives to represent their company intelligently, speak confidently and have the ability to navigate challenging questions to align with the company’s mission and vision. Clients will appreciate the investment on media training when they master successful interviews and garner great coverage.

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Topics: Media Relations, media training

REVEALED: The Most Significant Technology of the Next 50 Years

Posted by Jonathan Katz on Fri, Jul 10, 2015 @ 17:07 PM


It's virtual reality goggles. 

Disappointed? Well at least I didn't drag it out. Don't you hate clicking on a provocative headline, only to find several pointless paragraphs of introductory mush guarding the answer?

Well today you’re in luck, my friend, because I… wait, you left as soon as you got the answer, didn’t you? Hoist with my own petard.

Come to think of it, this type of quick reveal could destroy the entire "business publishing" industry. It certainly raises some tough questions. Questions like: why should I slog through 200 pages of wide-margined, motivational fluff and semi-relevant case studies when the whole “social marketing power secret”* could've fit inside a fortune cookie, and is that Seth Godin over there clutching a ceremonial Mayan blowgun, and why do I feel tired suddenly?

Lots of questions. Anyway, for the few of you still here (most likely job seekers, Chinese hackers, and job-seeking Chinese hackers) let me explain why I’m suddenly so bullish on “the most promising innovation of 1991.”

This was the year of my very first encounter with virtual reality. It was in San Francisco at Pier 39. The game was "Dactyl Nightmare."

Now broadly -- and I’m leaving out a ton of plot nuances here because there's only so much time in the day -- one played Dactyl Nightmare by standing on top of a virtual checkerboard and flinging pellets at things (while dodging pterodactyls, naturally).

You know what? Words can't possibly describe this marvel. Thankfully, I have images:


Dactyl Nightmare


Amazing, right? Well, it was back in 1991.

And all one had to do to enjoy this miracle of innovation was wait in line for about three hours in the blinding summer heat and then put on a forty-pound mechanical control interface that looked essentially like the prosthesis they make Andy Serkis wear to become Optimus Prime.

It didn't matter that the game itself lasted only a few seconds -- or as we called them in the virtual world, Dacto-seconds.

And it didn't matter that this particular reality we were virtualizing wasn't something any human being would actually recognize as "reality," save perhaps Gary Busey on cold medicine.

Didn't matter. VR was sufficiently awesome. The seed had been planted. The dream was born...

Then, we waited for about 25 years.

25 years, man! This friggin' development cycle is older than even senior account executive and noted Remington bronze collector Sally McHugh!

But here's the point:

Today, in 2015, there's finally reason to believe we're close.

To get here, we needed to solve two big challenges. First, we had to learn to create immersive, photo-realistic environments (think pterodactyls with wings instead of cubes), and then we had to learn to render those vivid environments instantly, with essentially zero latency.

Wired's Peter Rubin explains:

"In a traditional videogame, too much latency is annoying—you push a button and by the time your action registers onscreen you’re already dead. But with virtual reality, it’s nauseating. If you turn your head and the image on the screen that’s inches from your eyes doesn’t adjust instantaneously, your visual system conflicts with your vestibular system, and you get sick."

In 2013, Oculus (now owned by Facebook) claimed to have cracked this latency nut, using only 6 billion times more processing power than the Dactyl Nightmare hardware.

Now, in 2015, we're finally poised to see the first commercialization of this zero-latency VR technology in Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Just how significant is this, asks Rubin:

"Chris Dixon was among the six [VC partners] who got a look at the new [Oculus] model. 'I think I’ve seen five or six computer demos in my life that made me think the world was about to change,' he says. 'Apple II, Netscape, Google, iPhone … then Oculus. It was that kind of amazing.'”

Got that? A person you've never heard of believes this could be as big as a Web browser you've probably forgotten about. Also, what ever happened to Netscape? I guarantee some former RadioShack exec still uses it on his Blackberry.


Seth Godin

Seth Godin contemplates the impact of VR on his future book sales


But I do happen to believe Dixon on this one, and it's not just because his VC firm plopped down 75 million dollars to back up his audacious statement.

There's a perfect storm brewing, which includes such factors as mankind's meticulous destruction of the natural world, the meteoric rise of childhood obesity, and the developement of ever-faster computer processors, among other things.

Call me crazy, but I believe that over the next fifty years, VR will fundamentally alter education, healthcare, job training, business communication, travel, and pterodactyl poaching -- and I don't know if that's a good thing for mankind.

But it's a decidedly good thing for Castlevania enthusiasts.

-- Jonathan


*It was positive thinking and/or the Internet.


The Five Biggest Flaws in Your B2B Website

Topics: Tech Industry

Not Responding to a Crisis Can Be Worse Than the Crisis Itself

Posted by Pete Larmey on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 @ 10:07 AM

spruce image (29) resized 600

No one likes to think that a crisis will happen to their company, but, sooner or later, it probably will. How you weather the storm depends largely on your response to the crisis – and the timeliness of that response. 

You see, while customers remember when something goes wrong with a company’s product, those memories tend to be fairly short-lived (provided the problem is fixed). It could be a faulty piece of software that causes a network problem, or the airbags on your car being recalled. While these issues may be annoying, those annoyances are generally here one day, gone the next. 

However, when a company refuses to acknowledge the issue, or keep customers informed of what’s going on -- that’s when the bumpy ride turns into something a lot more threatening to a company’s relationships with its customers.

This is why rapid communications, particularly in times of crisis, is so important.

Look, customers are used to technology failing – hell, half the time they expect it to fail, at least eventually – and they can forgive those failures when they happen. It’s when an organization doesn’t respond to those failures, or keep its customers in the loop, that things get drawn out. And that can cause a serious PR headache for the company involved.

History is littered with examples of slow corporate responses that teach us this very lesson. From Penn State (Jerry Sandusky) to Sea World (the Blackfish documentary), we’ve seen companies get caught flat-footed when a crisis comes their way. At best, they react slowly; at worst, they don’t react at all.

That’s a death knell in today’s social media-driven world, where information can be found – and disinformation can be spread – instantaneously. Yes, companies need to get their response down before going public with it. But that response might be as simple as “we have a problem, we’re investigating it, we’ll let you know as soon as we find out more.”

The point is, it’s often not necessary to go into a lot of detail. Customers do not necessarily need or want that, anyway. It’s often enough to at least let people know that there is a problem, and keep them informed along the way.

Whatever a company does during a crisis, their communications need to be two things: immediate and honest. Getting truthful information out quickly can go a long way to appeasing customers and developing goodwill. Not doing so opens up organizations to criticism and skepticism that can last for days, weeks, or perhaps even years.

At the end of the day, people will forgive a technical hiccup. But forgive a company that hasn’t been responsive? That can take a lot more time than it takes to send out a simple Tweet.

The Blueprint - Social Media & Government

Q&A with Holly Dowden, former VP of Marketing at mPortal

Posted by Ali Robinson on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 @ 15:07 PM

Screen Shot 2015 06 30 at 3.07.23 PM resized 600Launched in January of 2012, mPortal’s blog The Connected Experience showcases thought leadership from CEO D.P. Venkatesh and the entire company.

On June 4th of this year, mPortal was acquired by BroadSoft, which is launching a new business unit called “BroadSoft Design.” The following Q&A took place before the BroadSoft acquisition and provides insights into mPortal’s pre-acquisition blogging operations.

Holly Dowden, now a senior director of product marketing at BroadSoft, assumed management of the blog when she started with mPortal in 2013. She was nice enough to answer a few questions for us and share some insights. Enjoy!


Full disclosure: SBX worked with mPortal on the launch and management of its blog.


Can you tell me a little bit about your career path and how you came to be the force behind mPortal's blog?

I actually came to this role with very little background in social/digital marketing. My career path in technology has mostly focused on product marketing and various related roles. However, when I first started at mPortal there was no one solely focused on marketing, and the first thing on the agenda was to create some awareness of what the company could offer. There were some start and stop attempts that had been made in the marketing arena, but I needed to amp up the game. I really have to give a shout-out to HubSpot here – their marketing automation software was the one thing we had in place, even if it was not being used to its full potential. As a resource, HubSpot has been invaluable to me, not just for its tools, but for its massive online training library.


Is your job solely focused on blogging and blog strategy, or are you responsible for other things? If so, what things?

No. At a small company you often have to plant the seed, sow the seed, bake the bread, etc. Although I have a VP title, I am a marketing team of one, so not only do I set the strategy, but I am also the one who creates most of the content, pushes the buttons on the tools, and generally gets the messaging out there. I also try to do a lot of research in order to stay abreast of market trends, which often feeds back into our blogs.


What are your blogging goals? How do they align with corporate goals? How often do you look at and refresh your blogging goals and strategy?

We don’t have a formal corporate goal per se for the blog. Because we have such a small team, we use the blog as a way of keeping our “content” updated and fresh. It’s really the easiest way to keep engaging customers and partners, by writing small pieces which are optimized as best we can for SEO, and then sending readers back to our website with appropriate CTAs.


What metrics to do you track and why? Are there any insights you’ve gleaned about your readership from tracking these metrics?

I use HubSpot to track the number of visitors to our blog, as well as downloads of content and “conversions” (to contacts). We don’t have the type of business model that lends itself to turning inbound contacts into customers in a direct/linear sort of way, although we do follow-up with everyone who has filled out a CTA form. We don’t attach hard ROI to our digital marketing efforts. It’s more about brand awareness and customer engagement, which is a very nuanced thing and doesn’t always lend itself to direct and measurable results. 


What benefits have you seen from the blog? Anything that was a surprise?

The major benefit for us is building a solid repository of information that can be used again and again in different ways. As most bloggers know, it’s not your most recent blogs that necessarily matter the most – the longer a blog is up there, the more hits it will get. I can’t say that I have seen any surprises to date; it’s more of a consistent, slow and steady wins the race deal, from my point of view.


Strategy-wise, what tactics did you employ to attract the target audience you were seeking?

Currently, we don’t spend a lot of time engaging a specific audience, which of course is something we aspire to do. Our contact database is filled with people who are in our industry, but I’d like to see a lot more segmentation. Strategy-wise, we should also be making an effort to socialize with specific online communities and bloggers, which again we are not able to tackle at the moment. Being completely transparent, most of our traffic is organic, which – while not a bad thing – is not the ideal.


What incentives do you use to motivate blog contributors?

This is typically the most difficult thing to do at any company – get people to take time out of their busy days to contribute content to a blog. We handle it in a couple of different ways. First, we rely on SpeakerBox to help with a lot of the content development. This is an absolute lifesaver - without SpeakerBox writing support, I’d be dead. Even if the content is needs adjustment, it’s much easier for me to edit than to start from scratch – and most importantly, it keeps me on track. In order to keep our content as meaningful as possible, we often try to connect our writing support partners with our SMEs. We also give a small stipend to mPortal employees who DO contribute blogs, however the content has to be of the highest quality for us to accept it. And lastly, I simply write a fair amount of posts myself.


How do you promote new content? 

We use a couple of consistent methods – Twitter, LinkedIn and a monthly email blast to our contact database.


Do you keep a personal blog? If so, what about? And, how has that experience helped you with your business blog? 

No. I get more than my fill of socialization at work. It’s fun and challenging, but I like to cut it off at some point!



Topics: Content Marketing, Influencer Q and As, Influencer QandAs, Blog measurement, Blog Strategy, Blogging, Blog Promotion

MindShare Class Recap: Gene Riechers on Entrepreneurship

Posted by Elizabeth Shea on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 @ 13:06 PM


Gene Riechers, MindShare 

MindShare Board Member Steve Balistreri from Deloitte and MindShare Co-Founder and Board Member Gene Riechers at the July Class for 2015

Last night the DC-based MindShare organization heard from its co-founder, board member and a man who really doesn't need an introduction: Gene Riechers--an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and currently the vice-chairman of EdTech company EverFi. He shared some insightful tips from his years in this industry, which I tried to capture here as best as I could!

If I made any misstatements in my recap, the error is all mine! 


What is MindShare? Launched in 1997, the organization handpicks 50 to 60 CEOs every year from the area’s hottest emerging growth companies to come together in a private, intimate setting. Its mission is to help CEOs build long-term, sustainable companies by creating opportunities for growth, building a sense of community, and fostering teamwork in a professional environment.

In other words, MindShare is an amazing group of new entrepreneurs who come together to learn, engage and network.

Each meeting features a different speaker or panel of experts, with topics including: raising capital, hiring the best talent, sales, marketing, and finance among others. CEOs who attend at least five of the eight sessions will graduate, and join the 900+ alumni from the organization that continue to foster discussions and provide support for one another.

I have recapped several MindShare programs over the years, which you can see here.

Some key takeaways from Gene's remarks last night: 

- Think about entrepreneurship as theater acts; Act I, Scene I: get your product launched, gain traction with sales and marketing. But know that eventually, someone, possibly even you, will obsolete your product. Be sure to think about how you are going to obsolete your product, so that someone else doesn't do it to you.  

Act 2, Scene 1: What’s your second act? Can you be smarter about the 2nd market as well as the 1st? He's seen people be very successful in their second act because they weren't content with their first. 

- It's important to talk to your customers, but still have a vision for what the broader market may need, rather than being reactive to a finite set of customers. While it sounds counterintuitive, he can cite many companies who died because they listened too much to customers, and kept tweaking and modifying their delivery for a small part of the market, missing out on the greater opportunity. 

- Great companies are bought, not sold. The best time to sell is when the market thinks you're hot, not necessarily when you are ready. The best deals are when companies come to you. The way software companies get bought with a 15X multiple versus a 5X multiple is because the buyer sees a great trajectory for themselves. 

- What tends to keep you up at night should not always be the competition necessarily--the companies that might release their next version before you release yours--it's the companies that come out of left field and disintermediate the space. Board member April Young used the example of the introduction of Google Maps and how it destroyed TomTom GPS and the car dashboard GPS systems that were all the rage. You could use the same anology with Uber and AirBnB and other similar disruptive companies...that's who you have to anticipate entering your space. 

- Think about your actual addressable market. He's seen too many people do a poor job of analyzing the true addressable market for their product, and then they assume theirs will continue to grow. Then, after they eat all of the low hanging fruit, they wither and die.

- Start establishing a culture where if people don’t grow with the company, they need to leave. Set the tone early and often. When it becomes apparent to everyone that someone might not make the cut at the next stage of the company, it's better understood why. 

- Understand that sometimes as the CEO, you may have to fire yourself! It happens.  As a VC, he counseled CEOs early on that there may come a time when they are not the best to serve as CEOs, and maybe they need to go. There is usually one of three reactions: 1) yes, you get it, and know it's best for the company, 2) yes, you say you get it but you really don't believe it will ever be true, and 3) you react with, "who me? Really?!?!"

- Don’t tolerate mediocrity Keep hiring As. As hire As, Bs hire Cs. Look at a bell curve, keep pushing the curve up. You'll be a stronger company. 

- Really do your homework and due diligence on reference checks. Get really specific and drill down, so you get better answers from the people providing a referral. Make the questions specific, and drill down to get better answers and examples. 

- When hiring a VP of marketing, ask different questions than might seem intuitive. Learn about the process they follow, how they evaluate a market and what processes do they use for determining the answers to very specific questions.  A good VP of marketing will ask more questions than provide answers in an interview.

- When hiring a VP of Sales, seek someone who has a process for making people successful. Learn how they train their people, what tools do they use? What have they done before, and how did it get done?

- Look to engage a board, consider just one board, a Board of Directors or Advisory board. Smaller boards are better.  Don’t select people for who they know, that could be short sighted; look for someone who can provide strategic advice. Also a tip: look for someone you can have a meal or a drink with, who you like and respect, who can be a good sounding board. 

- From his perspective as a VC, he looks for companies when they are early and onto something big. He quotes: "once you have a good amount of market research on a product or market, it's probably too late start!" 

- A mediocre plan executed with "great violence" will be more effective than a great plan with no buy in or passion. He calls it the “Violence of Execution:” engage your team in developing a plan and it will be stronger than if you develop the plan and hand it down.  

I know I've missed other relevant and valuable points, but this should whet your appetite as far as helping provide advice and thoughts to growing your business as an entrepreneur. Thank you to Gene for his time! 


Gene's bio:

Gene has been involved in building great technology companies in the DC area as both an operating executive and as a venture capitalist. As the Vice Chairman of EverFi, a leading education technology company. Gene is also a director of Opower (NYSE:OPWR), the global leader in cloud-based software for the utility industry. Gene was a General Partner of Valhalla Partners, one of the leading venture capital firms in the mid-Atlantic region.

Prior to co-founding Valhalla Partners in 2002, he was co-founder and Managing Director of FBR Technology Venture Partners. He was named to the first annual AlwaysOn "Venture Capital 100" list in 2010. Gene is also a co-founder of the MindShare program, the leading mentoring organization for technology entrepreneurs in the greater Washington area. Prior to his venture capital life, he joined four early-stage ventures, all of which went public.

Gene has a B.S. degree from Penn State and an MBA from Loyola College. He has served as a guest lecturer at the Harvard Business School, University of Chicago, and Georgetown University. Gene and his wife have 4 kids (and 1 grandson!) and live in McLean, VA.


Topics: CEOs, Events, Entrepreneurs, MindShare Organization

The Last Awkward Breaths of Metro Advertising

Posted by Jonathan Katz on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 @ 14:06 PM

I spend a lot of my life on the DC Metro line.

There are worse places to be. Just because I can't think of any right now doesn't mean that there aren’t—North Korea, there, I told you.

Hmm… come to think of it, those Pyongyang Metro cars (hand-built by Kim Jong-un and powered by his electric personality, no doubt) are probably advertising-free, because North Korea doesn’t have products yet.

So maybe it’s a wash. After all, DC Metro ad creative can be fairly painful to ingest. Just ask this guy:


Metro Food Ad


But let's look at this objectively. 

Display advertising in all its legion forms (digital, print, out-of-home, etc.) has two serious problems.

The first is that we've all gotten really good at avoiding it -- which is why a lot of websites today are forcing visitors to watch ad creative for a few seconds before they're allowed to skip past it... because... well I know I'm always in the mood for buying new tires after I've been Clockwork Oranged with tire propaganda.

Print and OOH advertising is in even worse shape, because we don't even have to click out of it -- we can just walk away. Oh, and here's a good marker for spotting when an advertising technique is in its death throes: they start putting it on the floor.


Metro Floor Ad


Have you seen this? It's pretty logical actually, since most of us aren't even looking up anymore thanks to near-total smartphone immersion. And when we do glance away from the screen, it's usually downward as a quick check to make sure we're not stepping on a baby or a condor or something.

Here's the second big problem for display advertising: lack of metrics.

Now I'm not a big fan of metrics, which is one of the (several) reasons I'll probably never get hired as a CMO.

Here's my issue with metrics. If one were to make a Venn diagram of two properties -- A) Things that are important to know, and B) Things that are easy to measure -- you'd notice quite a bit of space in between those circles.

This is the "low-hanging fruit" problem (not the least of which being that soul-crushing turn of phrase). The pursuit of metrics tends to lead us away from difficult, important questions, and towards the drooping succor of meaningless (but easily collected) data points. 

Here's a quick dramatization of how this goes:


Marv: Hey, Carl, did that ad buy help us at all? 

Carl: Did it ever! Our social engagement levels went through the roof, which is to say that the handful of people who talk to us on Facebook were particularly spunky this week.

Marv: We spent six hundred thousand dollars on that campaign.

Carl: And we got 27 new likes! What's your point?

But okay, let's say for argument's sake you've convinced your bosses to fund a new round of sparkling Metro display advertising. Clearly in this scenario, you've bothered to produce some roundly PHENOMENAL creative to showcase there, right? 

Well, let's take a look around the Silver Line as Marlon Brando whispers "the horror."


 Internet Ad


Now unless this is a cleverly veiled teaser for Terminator: Genisys, this ad is a pretty weak showing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against free technology and job training. It's just that this headline and visual manages to be both creepy and condescending at the same time. Maybe this ad makes sense in 1994 when Mosaic is being rolled-out, and we haven't yet decided if this Internet thing is catching on. Also... what kind of a book gets designed and published in Microsoft Office? Erotic Hunger Games fan fiction, that's what kind.


Harassment Ad 


Hmm... Turns out a good number of my work assignments are technically harassment. Great visual, though. Just to clarify, is the giant hand stopping the harassment or is that part of an unwanted groping gesture?


Mortgage Ad


I know some of the folks who do marketing for NFCU, so I'm trying to be kind here. But seriously, just how lazy can this ad creative get? I mean, what, did they just Google the word "home" and then grab the first iStock photo that popped up? Is some poor sailor really out there thinking, "Hmm, I never realized I wanted a home until I saw those cookies"? This is so bad it has me starting to look back fondly on the "harassment hand."


Gardens Ad


I think it's in Williamsburg. Am I wrong about that?


Energy Ad


Ugg. Is this supposed to be a provocative question? Because provacative questions aren't typically boring, vague, and self-serving. Who the heck is walking around asking this question, anyway? But here's the kicker -- they don't even bother to answer the question or even address it in the body copy. It's just a solicitation for more (likely unanswered) questions!



I really, really... really want this to be a joke. 



Okay, last one. And I know this technically isn’t a Metro ad -- but it's from our very own office building, and I snapped this picture while riding the Silver Line to work. 

I am 90% certain this is the exact conversation that happened over this headline:

Carl: You know what's better than everything you want? Everything you want, and more!

Marv: No, see, Carl, that would be worse, because it includes things you don't want. That’s like saying "here's the ice cream you ordered, plus a cinder block."

Carl: The banner’s already gone to the printer, so...


Did I miss anything terrible? Send the worst ads you see to for a chance to have your picture posted and wrongly attributed.


-- Jonathan


The Five Biggest Flaws in Your B2B Website

Topics: advertising