The Sounding Board

The Francis Effect: the Marketing Edition

Posted by LIsa Throckmorton on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @ 22:09 PM

Two of my colleagues and I had the good fortune of volunteering on a media relations team on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week as Pope Francis started his U.S. trip in D.C. Our assignment at his mass at The Basilica at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was manning a 10-story media riser, where many of the broadcast journalists covering the event were positioned to document the day.

I initially planned to write about that experience and the journalists and process tied to covering such a historic event. And, I will definitely have to do that at some point soon. But an event that I participated in today changed my mind, while still keeping it focused on that amazing experience last week.

This morning, I was participating in a TMA “Hear from Your Peers” event, led by Bob London of London, Ink. The discussion centered on how marketing and branding should be dictated by what your customers want as opposed to what we, as marketers, think they need.

I can’t help but be struck by the parallels in this mornings’ discussion and the Pope’s efforts to re-energize the Catholic Church based on communities’ needs. It is a real-time case study, and he is the church’s coincidental chief branding officer.

When I use marketing terms in the paragraphs to follow, I mean to use them respectfully and as analogies. I have the utmost reverence for the Pope as a religious and spiritual leader, and take my queues on this parallel from him and his very public goals to transform the global perception of the Catholic Church and its service to its members and potential members through inclusion.

Last Tuesday, before the Pope landed in D.C., I saw pre-arrival coverage on The Today Show that featured an interview with Christian author William Paul Young, who wrote “The Shack.” Young mused that “The Catholic Church is a humongous ship that doesn’t turn quickly, and yet you are kind of watching miraculous things happen” under the papacy of Francis.

There is no disputing the analogy of the Catholic Church as a large ship that doesn’t turn quickly, but what is more compelling than miraculous is what Pope Francis has been able to achieve. Consider that a 78 year-old man, elected by the College of Cardinals, who doesn’t watch TV or use the Internet, has led a massive organizational and brand transformation through an incredibly pragmatic combination of authenticity and dialogue.

As marketers, we tend more often than not to be guilty (sorry, it’s the Catholic in me) of making assumptions about what our customers’ pain points are, why they may or may not choose our services or solutions, and what they need or may value from our businesses. As Bob so aptly observed at this morning’s TMA event, “we look through our lens and neglect to look through theirs.”

Authenticity and dialogue are the core ways Pope Francis reverses the vantage point of that lens.

His authenticity is most clearly expressed in his humility and focus on the poor. He has chosen not to live in the papal apartments but rather in a more modest residence inside the Vatican, his papal car is a Fiat, and his conversation style is simple and direct. During his travels, he wanders into crowds to talk to people, adores children, and stops for pizza. He asks for prayers from those who pray and well wishes from those who don’t.

Through these actions -- which I would argue are purposeful, but not contrived -- he imparts a sense that we are all on the same playing field and that our goals (inclusive of his) are common ground. He is not the marketer or sales person telling us what we need – he is the business partner that listens, draws on similar experiences, takes into account extraordinary challenges that are unfamiliar to him, and gains trust. He achieves all of this simply by being thoughtful and genuine in his solutions for the people he serves.

He has bolstered that authenticity through an escalation of dialogue on legacy messages from the Vatican, to the Catholic community, and even to those outside of the religion. He has framed Catholic dogma and the community to be more inclusive and ready to be of service to buyers who clearly want and need what the community is offering.

This goes hand-in-hand with one of Bob’s discussion points this morning: an imperative of “agenda-less customer conversations.” In other words, the best opportunity to learn how to market and grow your business is when customer conversations are unscripted and real, and where listening takes precedent over talking.

Pope Francis has mastered this. There is little emphasis on hierarchy in his leadership – he has actually broken it down to some degree. He interacts with everyone from bishops to parish priests and lay people with equal care and consideration. Just this past week, he made a call to U.S. Bishops to move among their congregations to understand them and engage in "authentic dialogue."

Meanwhile, Bob shared findings from a McKinsey & Company study on “How B2B companies talk past their customers.” The study illustrated the deltas between where IT buyers gather information, versus where marketers invest.

The most significant gaps (areas of little to no investment) were in forums, peer recommendations, and ratings and reviews. It is little wonder to me that marketers slight these areas. All three are frightening territory that hinge on product/service quality and their direct correlation to customer perception. It’s the raw space where the truth emerges about why your business is failing, flat, or growing, and in most cases will create hard work or necessitate tough decisions. For most, it’s just easier to not listen.

Pope Francis has spent time in that raw space and is publicly addressing controversial topics like abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. He is initiating thoughtful dialogue on the balance between dogma and inclusion. His “Who am I to judge?” stance is refreshing to many who are seeking alignment between their secular and spiritual needs.

Being authentic and really digging deep and listening to customers in order to improve business outcomes is not really a new thought, but it continues to feel novel because it’s something that is rarely done and requires us to step outside of our comfort zones. We must risk rejection while giving control to customers – both things that instill a sense of fear or unease. We’re also uncomfortable with change, but listening to customers and really connecting with them often requires that we change our traditional approaches to marketing.

And while we wrestle with these challenges, we have an 78 year-old man, who doesn’t watch TV, doesn’t use the Internet, and I guarantee you has never heard of McKinsey & Company – putting himself and his organization out there and listening to what his constituents want. The so-called “Francis effect” is a modern day branding playbook that we get to watch get written in real-time. Hard data on the increase in Catholics or return to Catholicism will come over time, but if favorability polls and infrastructure taxing attendance at events in D.C., Philadelphia and New York City last week are any indication, it’s an approach that’s working and worth emulating. 

Topics: Marketing, Branding, customer service, Pope Francis, Authenticity, Customer Relations

Tipsfor public sector product releases

Posted by Ali Robinson on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 @ 13:09 PM


In my time here at SpeakerBox I’ve focused on a lot of different areas of technology. One news item that has typically garnered a decent amount of reporter enthusiasm in the B2B world is a new product release (not to be confused with product updates or version releases). 

However, this does not ring true when it comes to the public sector. It might be the procurement process, or the speed at which the government moves, or the number of other mandates and directives that reporters have to cover, but it is a rare case when product news is covered by the public sector press. 

That said, many companies expect product coverage in the public sector trade publications (especially if they’re seeing this type of coverage in another vertical). 

With 69% of our client makeup interested in the public sector, we’ve gotten creative and have put together a few tips for getting product-related coverage in the public sector press. 

  1.  Tie to trends - Mandates, directives, and the like abound in the public sector. Tying into these cross-government trends can give your product story a whole new twist.
  2. Look at the problem and solution - Products are meant to solve problems. Focus on a common problem and suggest a way to solve it, subtly referencing the product.
  3. Find a customer - While this can be a tough task, it’s not totally impossible. State and local customers are typically easier to secure as a reference than a federal customer, but contractors can work as well. 
  4. Find a partner - Partnering with a noncompetitive but similar technology to tell a larger story of change or trends within the government can turn a reporters head and save them time when looking for additional sources.

Following these tips and thinking outside of the product box for other story ideas that relate back to a new product should increase the chances of getting attention in the public sector press.

Topics: PR, B2G, press releases, product launch

Meet FierceGov’s Molly Walker 

Posted by Jennifer Edgerly on Mon, Sep 28, 2015 @ 10:09 AM

Molly Walker, FierceMarkets

One of the great things about working for SpeakerBox – aside from the super affordable health insurance, flexible schedule, company-wide cook-offs, monthly happy hour and four week paid sabbatical after five years of employment (are you listening DC Inno?) – is that we take our job as PR pros seriously.

We strive to do the best we possibly can for our clients and that means knowing the publications and reporters that matter to them. We make a point of not spamming reporters and sending them information that we think would be of value to them.

One of the ways we keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening is by occasionally hosting editors/reporters at our office for an informal chat. This gives us a chance to meet with those who matter to us and get the first hand scoop on any updates or personnel changes at their publications, find out about new publications or newsletters they may be launching, and get insight into what kind of topics are interesting to them. It also gives us a chance to talk about our clients and their news.

Recently we had the chance to sit down with Molly Bernhart Walker, executive editor of the Government Publishing Group at FierceMarkets. Our conversation was pretty informal and not the typical influencer Q&A we write from time to time for The Sounding Board, but we learned some valuable insights that I’d like to share.

As executive editor for FierceMarkets, Molly she writes for, edits, and oversees the daily editorial operations for several government-focused publications. She also manages custom eBook and webinar content for these publications, all of which are written for government IT managers and include:

  • FierceGovernmentIT – Published daily, the group’s flagship publication tracks the latest technological developments in the U.S. government.
  • FierceGovernment - Tracks the latest developments in the U.S. government and is published four times per week.
  • FierceHomelandSecurity – Published twice a week, this newsletter tracks the latest security developments in the U.S. government.
  • FierceMobileGovernmentA weekly publication that covers mobile apps & app development, mobile device management & BYOD, security & privacy, and other key issues.
  • FierceGovHealthITProvides news and analysis of and for government executives and IT professionals tasked with providing healthcare services to veterans and the American public. The newsletter is published once a week.
  • FierceCities – The newest publication in the group’s portfolio and its first foray outside of the federal space. FierceCities provides news and analysis on how the smart grid, sensors, and big data are transforming transportation, energy, law enforcement/security, education, urban planning, and more.

Most federal IT publications have become accustomed to accepting vendor-contributed content, and the FierceMarkets publications are no exception. However, while Molly and her team at FierceMarkets accept contributed content, due to the high volume of government IT news she cautioned that more contributed content is accepted during the summer months when things slow down a little bit. 

Specific types of content are more likely to get covered. Topics that tend to get the most attention include cybersecurity, healthcare (particularly the recent V.A. contract), open source software, cloud, and data center consolidation. Molly is also very interested in seeing examples of government efficiency, and things that help agencies do more with less.

Molly appreciates it when that content is complemented by supporting points. Good statistical research, such as surveys, reports and studies, are welcome. Case studies are also hot commodities, particularly those where the public sector counterpart is willing and able to talk. Molly also appreciates insight from industry experts who can provide true thought leadership and talk about broad issues and trends, as well as SMEs who are willing to take a stand and voice opinions or comment on policy or agency procedure. Conversely, she’s generally not interested in product news and rarely runs contract wins.

Contributed articles and interviews are not the only potential options for vendors. FierceMarkets also has a variety of lead generation options that includes a marketplace for white papers and the opportunity to sponsor custom content.

To learn more about Molly and the rest of the FierceMarkets editorial team, visit their recently revamped website. And thank you, Molly, for coming in to chat with us and sharing some of the ins and outs of the Government Publishing Group at FierceMarkets.

Topics: PR

Join Us at TMA's "Hear From Your Peers" Breakfast and Learn the Secret To Better Understanding Your Customers

Posted by Josh Schimel on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 @ 19:09 PM

It's Fall, time for another "Hear From Your Peers" event hosted by The Marketing Alliance (TMA). TMA is comprised of top-level marketers, who come together to exchange ideas, build relationships and gain (or re-gain) inspiration.

Hear From Your Peers: How to Discover Your Customers' Elevator Rant will feature Bob London, President of London, Ink who serves as an outsourced CMO for small and medium-sized B2B companies. 

Bob will share the secret to learning what he refers to as your customer's “Elevator Rant” - what they complain about on the elevator when you're not around.

Culled from years of experience interviewing his clients’ customers and prospects to get a better understanding of their pain points, "The Elevator Rant" process can be a powerful tool to help you differentiate your company and achieve traction in the marketplace.


  • How marketing can better listen to current and former customers and prospects.
  • How to engage customers and prospects, the questions to ask, and how to look for insights.
  • How companies have turned these insights into new, differentiated strategies resulting in rapid market traction.

When: Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 8:00 am – 10:00 am

Where: Silverline Center, 7900 Westpark Drive, McLean, Virginia 22102, 5th Floor Conference Center

Coffee and Continental Breakfast Served

Cost: $35

Click here to register


8:00-8:30: Registration, Networking and Breakfast

8:30-9:30: Program

9:30-10:00: Q&A and Networking

Note: We have a new location on the Silver Line Metro, in the Silverline Center on Westpark Drive. You'll want to register TODAY as seats are limited to 20 guests! 




Topics: TMA

Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum: Part 2, All Star Ed Tech Panel

Posted by Kate Nesbitt on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 @ 18:09 PM

For the second part of the CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum (click here for Part I), the event showcased a panel discussion focused on “The Coming Disruption in Corporate Learning and Higher Education.” Panelists included big names in the ed tech and investment community, including:

  • Moderator: George Churchwell, Co-Founder and President, Tech2000 and Lumious
  • Kate Day: Vice President, Workforce Enablement, Global Technology and Operations, MetLife
  • Steve Graubart: CFO, 1776; former Managing Director of Finance, University of the District of Colombia
  • Mark Grovic: Co-Founder and General Partner, New Markets Venture Partners
  • Mark Walsh: Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Union of College; Chairman of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland; Executive Chairman, HomeSnap, former CEO, VerticalNet

The moderator and panelists were introduced by Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center, where she is responsible for overseeing the student venture incubator, Dingman Center Angels investor network, business competitions and technology commercialization efforts.

Here’s what we learned, paraphrased, of course, from the panelists about what they are seeing in the ed tech industry: 

George set the stage with some stats for background, mostly to talk about the insane costs of education:

  • College text book pricing has increased 82% in the last 10 years (Averaging $1200/year)
  • 94% of students fear not buying texbooks would negatively impact their grades
  • 82% of students felt having the option to have free online text books would improve studying and performance
  • Nearly 50% reported cost of text books affected decisions on which classes to take

George: With the coming disruption in corporate learning and higher education, what are you seeing in current investments?

Steve: At 1776, we’ve done investments that range across K-12 through lifetime learning. Our accounts tend to be 10-20% education in one-way or another. Edbacker is one company we are working with now. We consider education a primary sector and have even hired an edu specialist

Mark G: We’re trying to focus on bigger education problems that can’t be solved with an app. We’re looking at most disruptive business models to build pathways for students who are being failed by an overpriced system.

Kate (The corporate perspective!): Take a look at the media, do you know the #1 concern for CTOs are? Not security, keeping up with the velocity of change in tech for their organizations. On the other side, think about this: because of the proliferation of tech, every employee now has expectations for how to engage with technology. Tech is an enabler, so regardless of sector every company is a tech company. This has been a fundamental shift. Now internally, we have HR and traditional training, and it has to be a paradigm shift that occurs. If CEO is worked about tech, HR has to worry about how technology employees are skilled. We need to leverage tech to get info faster and cheaper.

Mark W: As a member of the board for Union College for 4 years, I fear that in 2035 someone will turn around and say “who were the idiots in charge who didn’t see the train coming down the tracks to change the way we deliver a $60 million product forever? “ Who is going to look back and say “who wasn’t paying attention to what’s going on?” The answer is: these institutions are run by the inmates. It’s a unionized environment wedded to a model that is very difficult to leave. So, what’s the disruptive element that will change this and break the model? I don’t know but it’s somewhere and when it happens it will happen quickly. F. Scott Fitzgerald died penniless and was asked what it was like to die poor. He said it happened slowly at first, and then it happened fast. Trustees of liberal arts colleges and universities someday soon will look really stupid. 

George: If you look at education in terms of content, modality, and analytics, what is the sweet spot you see?

Steve: It’s hard to get really disruptive change in the university space. We’re looking for this, but it’s slow. The interest is strong and in terms of practical investment, we are relatively open. We’re looking at good analytical, personalization and corporate tools and focusing on platform and content specifically for the hotel industry and other industries that are behind.

George: Other than new technology, what’s going to make this incredibly big disruption happen?

Mark W: (Jokingly) Ed tech is the business of the future and always will be. As you see the dissatisfaction of families who have borrowed strong, got a great BS/BA and come out with out a next chapter, we will start to see this disruption. When people realize a liberal arts education isn’t always the product that people end up needing.   The year this will happen? 2023.

Mark G: Unfortunately, when people who are trying to do the best for them and their kids, college education still provides a dramatically better income than someone who doesn’t go to school at all. Families spend 3-6% of income on education while countries spend 30%. There’s no good alternative for that wasted money – when Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. stand up a university the entire country is going to fall over and want to go to that school. No more federal loans, accreditation, employers will pay in their ability to create alternative pathways.   I’ve sat with schools when they discuss tech decisions and it always ends with raising costs for students and still not giving them skills they need and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Kate: Here’s what I’m seeing on flip side: #1 I do not believe in complete online education, because students today are spending too much time in front of the screen. And, what I worry about is that I want people who can think and challenge and not just look at Google as a verb. I want people who can make decisions and not just do what your told all the time. We’re getting dumbed down by these search engines. I have two kids in college, and I believe there’s a middle of the road. You can leverage tech and bring in experts from around the world to enrich the experience. Kids need to be face-to-face because working the room is a dying art. I see it everyday…Whatever the higher education of the future is, don’t discount personal skills and divert to a completely tech education.

#2 – Make it easier for me. Don’t make systems proprietary. Open systems, open solutions, make it easier to gather data.

George: the other piece to this is on the corporate side – what keeps you up at night regarding challenges you see here?

Kate: One challenge that keeps me up is can I move quickly enough, can we keep the tech simple? Time is money, knowledge is power, being skilled correctly will make sure the project comes in on time and on budget. Can I shift paradigm model to meet demand?

Steve: We invest in early stage companies. So for us, its companies that have gone through a pivot that keeps us up. How do we continue to provide support? How do we support all of our companies best?

Mark G: One thing I like about what we’re seeing in K-12 in solutions and companies is that there’s a movement for a more authentic product base – data shows that its much more correlated with success to have soft skills than IQ. There are some soft skills investing. Thinking about the way people should be learning and demonstrating learning to make things more engaging and relevant for students. I’m ok with small data as long as it’s actionable. Looking for largely innovative business models.

Mark W: At Tribeca Flashpoint College, we used to think we ran a college for digital skills. So what we figured out is that what we should be doing is not generating digital skilled people we should be promoting corporate skills. 

George: What does it look like to take a class in 2025?

Kate: I’m intrigued by what mark white said – I think our role in business and personal lives is changing more than we even realize. We’re driven by video. What I realize is I need more people who know how to manage digital assets so they are searchable and measureable. Coming to work or school we will have a different set of skills we’ll need to use in everyday life, but I hope universities don’t give up the university experience.

Steve: One pathway is that change from students to learners, so maybe we will each have a learning record like a health record. School is one part of the experience – classes out side of school activities outside of schools will also be tracked. 

Mark G: By 2050 we’ll go from 7 to 9 billion people. How will you educate those people?? The technology is here (Microsoft Kinect – its here, but I’m not seeing it being used), we just aren’t envisioning and making it easy for professors who don’t have time to innovate. In 2035, education will be interactive, out of your seat, doing real world activities – interacting with people around the world who share your passion – much more engaging and exciting. Personalized, project based and relevant.

Mark W: If you think back to your years on campus, you can probably think about one or two people that were really magic to you in your experience. You can also think back and say that other guy was an idiot. So the magic is never going to disappear, the connection between a good teacher and willing student will never go away. The issue to me is the tool set that makes that magic happen – right now we have scalability and we’ll have access to the best person in the field in the world.

The quarterly CONNECTpreneur event was presented by appnetic, Tech 2000 and Lore Systems and has been attended by over 3500 business leaders over its 31/2 years. You can connect with the event on on Facebook, on Twitter @connectpreneur, and

Topics: Events, Entrepreneurs, Technology

Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum: Part 1, with Tom Davidson and Company Showcase

Posted by Sally McHugh on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 @ 11:09 AM

Once per quarter entrepreneurs, business leaders, venture capitalists, and CEO’s from all around the mid-Atlantic region come together for the CONNECTpreneur Forum. Yesterday a few SpeakerBoxers had the opportunity to attend and meet some of the key players in DC's startup community. 

At CONNECTpreneur events, several carefully selected companies seeking funding have the opportunity to pitch their startup ideas and try to sell the audience. In a room packed with some of Washington DC’s most well connected VIPs and investors, this opportunity is invaluable for startups that are trying to make it in the competitive business climate.  

Before starting the pitches, Tien Wong, the founder of CONNECTpreneur, organizes a fireside chat with a successful businessperson from the DC startup community. Yesterday, Tien hosted a fireside chat with Tom Davidson, CEO of EverFi. Tom shared a bit of his background, and how he went from being a 3-term congressman to a venture capitalist to founding EverFy. Tom was inspired by Everfy because of his deep-rooted interest in school founding and his interest in tackling this issues that students and teachers are faced with across the country. Under Tom’s leadership, EverFi has grown to be one of the leading education technology companies focused on teaching, assessing, badging, and certifying students in critical skills. 

There was a great showing of startups ready and eager to pitch their ideas to the room. Some I had encountered at DC tech events, some I hadn’t seen before, all were inspiring in their dedication to their business ideas. In case you missed it, here’s a spotlight of the companies that presented: 

  • GovProp: First up was Eric Adolphe, CEO of GovProp, an application built to create a sharing economy for government contractors. Recently, the government contracting market has seen a dramatic increase in the use of consultants to write proposals because keeping people on staff full-time is too expensive. Govprop is the first “uber-ized” business model for government contractors and connects contractors with vetted consultants so they can mutually grow their businesses. The complete online ecosystem includes an academy; capture tools, matching engine, and payment engine—all specifically designed for government contracting. 
  • Blue Star Veterans Network: Robert O. Wray, Jr., Rear Admiral USN (ret), founded Blue Star Veterans network to promote independent living at home for senior citizens. Today, an incredible amount of technology exists to make life easier for senior citizens, but they don’t know what it is, how to find it, or how to use it. Blue Star aggregates and simplifies the process for seniors, to get them the technology that will be most useful to them and to help them implement it. Blue Star differentiates themselves from their competitors by being the only company focused on veterans, boasting lower prices ($30 per month for about 40 months) than competitors, and offering a wider selection of technologies than similar services. 
  • C2C Smart Compliance: E. Brian Alexander, Chief Legal Officer of C2C, presented a software platform that clarifies and streamlines the compliance and risk management processes. The web-based tool helps users understand organizational and regulatory risks, policy and control effectiveness, and more. C2C’s compliance mapper tool is different because they offer custom content and custom mapping that is tailored for an organization’s specific needs. To keep current with the industry, C2C also maintains large libraries with all of the laws, regulations, and standards that organizations need to be aware of. 
  • JobOn: Next up was the CEO of JobOn, Jody Presti, who has been in the industry for about 2.5 years and focuses on simplifying the employment process for the 75 million hourly workers across 9 million workplaces in the US. The JobOn solution is an application that lets job seekers create profiles in less than 2 minutes using their mobile device and allows employers browse through relevant applications. JobOn matches perspective employees with the employers that are often too busy to manage the staffing industry in the most effective way possible. 
  • OVER Technology Inc: OVER is a social media company that is launching a new app called Mass Appeal, presented by Jamaal Overton. Mass Appeal brings order to the social media chaos by bringing key interactions to the forefront. Specifically targeting artists, Mass Appeal has a competition feature that allows two artists to compete directly in front of both of their respective followings, increasing exposure for both artists. This app should go to beta testing in January and launch at SXSW. 
  • RightEye, LLC: Today school and pediatric screenings miss about 50% of vision disorders. RightEye, presented by Barbara Barclay, Right Eye’s President, has taken the worlds most advanced eye tracking technology and created a smarter vision test that adds persuasion, adds scalability and economy, and discourse more about health in general faster. RightEye has developed RightEye Optometry, RightEye Concussion, and RightEye Sport to assess more aspects of vision in a fraction of the time, and to deliver repeatable objective reporting in a better, faster, and cheaper way. RightEye has identified a 2.065 billion dollar target market opportunity from optometrists, to sports, to military.
  • TopBox: Jeff Yentis, founder of TopBox, presented his solution for improving the call-center experience. They want to get to the root cause of customer call-center issues and create an exponential impact on the industry. TopBox documents calls, mines transcripts, and identifies cause & effect of direct issues. The application is cloud based and takes less than a day of training to become proficient. TopBox has identified a target market of more than 100,000 contact centers worldwide who expect call volumes to increase over the next two years. 
  • ValPark Mobile: The last presenter of the day was Ben Tesfaye, founder of ValPark, a service that allows users to pay for parking without even having to take out their phone. It offers valuable analytics for vendors such as peak hours and how long people are staying in a garage. ValPark creates a way for users to pay for parking with just their name and pin number, lets them request their car from a valet, and allows them to track their transactions in the simple mobile app. The parking industry is an 8.2 billion dollar business, and ValPark wants to distinguish themselves as the premier app for user experience on the front end, and data aggregation on the back end. 

Good luck to all the companies who presented yesterday! Check out “Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum: Part 2, The Coming Disruption in Corporate Learning and Higher Education“ to hear more from the rest of the event!


Topics: startups, Events, PR, DC Tech Community, DC Tech, CONNECTpreneur

DC’s Coolest Companies Were Crowned at DC Fest 2015  

Posted by Jessica Lindberg on Wed, Sep 16, 2015 @ 20:09 PM

The SpeakerBox team was out in full force last night for DC Inno’s DC Fest. Each year,DC Inno closes out the summer by bringing the coolest and most innovating companies together to celebrate all that makes them the best companies to work for. The festival supplied live music, food trucks, summer cocktails, and lawn games.

The competition shines a light on the most fun and interesting perks companies are offering their employees for returned hard work and dedication. Nominations were collected for coolest companies earlier this summer and for the first time this year DC Inno added a Reader’s Choice component. Readers votes were used to select two winners from the finalists’ pool. The top 100 finalists (including our very own SpeakerBox) were announced on August 11th and ten winners were crowned at last night’s event. 

My fellow SpeakerBoxers and I enjoyed music from The DCeivers, playing corn hole, and eating all the food from the food trucks. The festival had three food trucks on hand:

  • DC Pollo – The truck dished delicious Peruvian rotisserie chicken, tacos and burritos all evening.
  • Chix N Stix– Serving up killer fries (flavors included beer, jalapeno nacho, old bay and parmesan garlic) and even better wings.
  • DC Slices – DC's hottest mobile pizza kitchen brought fresh rolled dough for its cheese, pepperoni and buffalo chicken pies. 

This year’s winners with descriptions from their DC Inno submission include:

  • Aspire – “We're all about the perks, as a perk company. Once a month, our team gets to choose individual perks -- meals delivered, laundry taken care of, or yoga classes added to our schedule.”
  • Brightfind – A “digital design and web development agency hosts every Wednesday afternoon an event dubbed, ‘Beer:30,’ tasting local brews from all 50 states in the order in which they came into the union.”
  • Capterra – Half of their “monthly company meetings involve a team trivia contest where the The Capterran with the most points at the end of the year gets “The Capterra Scholar Cup,” a 3.5’ trophy.”
  • Clarabridge – “Clarabridge has a health-focused culture, and a walk around our office shows it. Treadmill desks and sit/stand desks for all employees, exercise balls a-plenty, in-office yoga and gym, and free fresh fruit and smoothies represent the company's commitment to a fit workforce and make it easier for people to fit healthy choices into their lives.”
  • LMO Advertising – “In an office full of creatives, it is no surprise that something out of the ordinary happens almost every day at LMO. This can be as unexpected as a remote-controlled helicopter flying over your desk, a heated Ping-Pong tournament with co-workers, or a Google Glass experiment with a client.”
  • Optoro Inc. – “We have four major parties every year. Optorofest and BLINQo de Mayo are the two that are open to all staff as well as the larger D.C. start-up community and our friends and family. Those parties always boast great food and music, and an awesome time is had by all!”
  • TrackMaven – “Offers its team to stretch it out with free weekly yoga class, an on-campus exercise room with locker rooms and towel service. They're even staying fit as they work at their standing desks!”
  • VideoBlocks – “If our office is any indication, yoga hammocks will soon replace chairs as the preferred hardware for sitting, and conference rooms will increasingly give way to Ping-Pong rooms.”
  • 2U (Reader’s Choice Winner)– “Offers a high-energy work environment that’s both challenging and fun. We work hard, but our offices are casual and social places: we wear jeans to work, we fuel brainstorming sessions with snacks and soda, and we blow off steam playing video games.”
  • Everfi (Reader’s Choice Winner)– “An education start-up, keeps up office traditions by hosting bi-annual company retreats, called Paloozas. This summer, they’re bringing the party down to Clarksdale, Mississippi!” 

Congrats to the 2015 winners!

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Topics: SpeakerBox, Events, DC Fest

About That Google Logo...

Posted by Jonathan Katz on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 @ 09:09 AM

Martin Luther King Jr. once said the arc of corporate logo evolution is long, but it bends toward simplicity.

Smart man, MLK… I’m told he made some noteworthy contributions to the civil rights movement as well, but he’s mostly remembered for designing the Candy Crush logo.



But just how simple is too simple?

That's a popular question these days, especially now that Google has its new, ultra-streamlined logo design on full display. 

AdAge, for one, tried to crowd-source the answer in an online poll:


Here's Google describing the change in a company blog post:

"Once upon a time, Google was one destination that you reached from one device: a desktop PC. These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices—sometimes all in a single day. You expect Google to help you whenever and wherever you need it, whether it’s on your mobile phone, TV, watch, the dashboard in your car, and yes, even a desktop!"

Wait, what?

How does moving from a serif font to a sans-serif font help people interact with Google on mobile devices?

I haven't the faintest idea -- nor do I begin to understand how moving from a solid blue "G" icon to a four-color "G" icon enhances small-screen usability.

If you ask me, the whole "different platforms" argument is a red herring. Google just wanted a logo change. Fair enough.

And as MLK so accurately noted, logo evolution really only moves in one direction -- towards simplicity (uniformity, flatness, etc.)

In fact, all the way back in 2012, the folks at Stock Logos made some humorous predictions about how a few of our most iconic logos might evolve over the coming years: 



So here's the question. If logos can only evolve in the direction of simplicity -- and if that simplicity inevitably leads to a comically undifferentiated, basic form... perhaps it's best not to evolve.

That's certainly been the position of some other iconic brands like Coca-Cola.


Of course for Coke, connotations of classic-ness and American nostalgia are deeply rooted in the brand's DNA. So the calculus is a bit different. Some brands won't want to "change with the times." But most will. 

And that's all Google is up to here (if you ask me) -- evoking a vague sense of forward progress by moving in the only direction it can reasonably move.

Indeed, when you look at the new Google logo -- love it or hate it -- it certainly feels "new."

And in technology, newness is a virtue in and of itself.


May the Force Be With You -- and Your Brand

Posted by Pete Larmey on Thu, Sep 3, 2015 @ 08:09 AM


Today, Disney is hosting a live YouTube event to celebrate the release of a new line of Star Wars merchandise tied into the upcoming release of The Force Awakens. They’ve gathered Internet celebrities from around the world and will showcase them unboxing hundreds of toys, games, books, and more, all of which will go on sale this weekend.

Why should you care? Well, aside from the fact that I’m betting a good many of you reading this post are Star Wars fans, consider that this is all for a brand that’s been around for nearly 40 years – and yet, seems healthier than ever.

How in this world – or any other – does that happen, especially for a property that, by all rights, should have become dormant a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far…well, you get it)? How does something not only stay alive, but become increasingly cherished, over such a period of time?

One could argue that a brand’s longevity is due to the inherent benefits of the property itself. For Star Wars, this would be the storytelling, the characters, the debate over whether Han or Greedo shot first, etc. That argument would be accurate, but it’s not the full story.

Maintaining relevancy also involves deploying creative, attention-getting marketing initiatives. This is what makes the Star Wars YouTube event so cool – to my knowledge, something like this has never been done before. It’s not like Disney needs to do this to draw more attention to the brand. Yet they’re doing something unique that feeds directly into one of the main passions of the core Star Wars fan – the desire for collectibles.

It’s a lesson in marketing that established technology companies would do well to emulate. Before you sell me to Jabba the Hut over this thought, let me be clear: I don’t expect any of our clients to do a global YouTube unboxing event (that would be kind of hard with something like, for example, a cloud server).

However, I do encourage organizations to look at ways they can use technology – particularly social media – as a means of stirring interest and excitement. Of course, most are already doing this through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites. But don’t forget Vine, Meerkat, Instagram, Feedly, or other apps that will allow you to connect directly with your customers (yes, they use all of these, too). There are so many tools out there to help companies avoid marketing complacency.

And too many technology companies do end up getting complacent, only to find themselves having to reinvent their formulas to catch up with those whippersnapper upstarts. We’ve seen it happen time and again to established brands that have been a part of our culture for decades. Microsoft is an example of a company that found itself at the top of the world one day…then playing catch up to Google and Apple the next. BlackBerry is another example of a company that was a leader in its particular area only a few years ago, only to find itself in a steaming pile of Bantha you-know-what today.

There are, of course, many technology companies that have successfully stood the test of time through continuous innovation, reinvention, and marketing savvy. Red Hat is a fine example of an organization that has always managed to catch the next wave and ride it, all while leveraging the latest technologies for effective communication. Some of the other clients that I’ve worked with, notably SolarWinds and Metalogix, use online communities and video communications to keep their brands and products top-of-mind. Thanks to a combination of innovative products and creative marketing, I have a feeling all of these companies will end up aging pretty well, and still be relevant many years from now.

Look, I saw The Empire Strikes Back in the theaters when it first came out in 1980, and now I’m watching Star Wars Rebels on the Cartoon Network with my daughter. That’s a pretty impressive testament to the power of an enduring brand. It’s a power that companies can wield like a Jedi with a lightsaber.


Image courtesy Disney.


Topics: Social Media, Social Marketing, YouTube

SpeakerBox is Hiring!

Posted by Kate Hanusik on Tue, Sep 1, 2015 @ 08:09 AM


SpeakerBox, a PR firm designed to meet the unique demands of the technology sector, is hiring!  We’re currently looking for candidates who are both entry-level and experienced communicators. 

We’re also looking for at least one part-time fall intern.  If you’re a local college student or recent graduate interested in learning more about public relations, please consider applying.

Links to job descriptions can be found here:

And if you need some encouragement, let me share just a few reasons why SpeakerBox is such a great place to work.

  • Mentoring – Weekly one-to-one meetings with supervisor and bi-weekly training program
  • Benefits –
    • Health insurance (90-100% of individual premium paid by SBX)
    • Dental insurance (100% of individual premium paid by SBX)
    • 401k plan with 3% employer contribution
  • Generous vacation policy – 15 days of PTO in your 1st year (and birthday off) plus 10 federal holidays observed and our office is closed between Dec. 24 – Jan. 1
  • Sabbatical – After five years, employees are eligible for a paid, four-week sabbatical
  • Flexibility – After one-year, full-time employees are eligible for one telework day per week. We also offer part-time positions and flexible schedules, which several employees take advantage of.
  • Culture – We’re always looking for a reason to celebrate: annual SpeakerBox Day (we’ve been to Nationals games, mini golf, winery tours), seasonal cook-offs, monthly happy hour and a low-key, laid-back office environment
  • Clients – Our clients include major Fortune 500 companies, fast-growing mid-market companies, innovative startups and everything in between.  It never gets boring here.

If you’re interested in learning more about SpeakerBox and possibly joining our team of smart, happy people – please send your cover letter and resume to

-  Katie

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