Friday, June 25, 2010

Business Should Be Fun

When I was working at Alexander Communications in the late 1990s (about the time Alexander was acquired by Ogilvy PR), one of the biggest technology shows in the world was COMDEX. It happened every year in Las Vegas.

It was at this show that I was reminded of something from my client Lonn Johnston, vp of communications at TurboLinux. Over time, Lonn would become my friend, boss and mentor.

The lesson: business can be fun.

We hired the Flying Elvi (plural of Elvis?) to skydive dressed in (Linux) penguin costumes and land in front of the hotel where Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was staying. There was more to the campaign, but the main thing was IT WAS FUN. It was a blast!

Fast forward to now. I started my own little agency in April of 2009. Since our first 2 clients, we've grown a bit - we now have 4 staff and revenues are up 683%. With that kind of growth happening in one year, I worry a lot about the continuos quality of work, making the right new hires, taking the right client partners, etc.

But one thing I won't forget is that business can and should be fun.

I got a reminder of that today from a new intern at Cisco Systems, Greg Justice. He did a great video as part of a "I am the world's most interesting intern" contest.

Corporate raps aren't the only way to have fun, but here are a few others I've enjoyed in the past year (I know some, but not all of these folks):

Ok, I like the last one because it's about me. But folks like Jennifer Cloer, Greg Justice, Ray George, Kim Terca, J Chris Anderson and Claire McCabe are all having fun.

Thanks for that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Power of Polls

In 1935, America's most esteemed public-opinion poll was The Literary Digest, which had called accurately the last 5 elections. Their polls were showing that Franklin D. Roosevelt would lose the presidential election 56 percent to 44 percent to Al Landon.

Yet an upstart polling company, founded just a year earlier by George Gallup, claimed Roosevelt would win the election.

When Gallup was proven right, Gallup was thrust into the national spotlight. George Gallup was quickly approached by the fast growing movie industry. Several Hollywood producers approached him about working for them, and finally in 1940 he signed an exclusive contract with RKO Radio Pictures. Over the next few years he carried out surveys about many of the studio's planned film projects and many of the stars it had or wanted to have under contract, including Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Orson Welles, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. When that contract ended, Gallup continued to work with RKO and also added David Selznick and Walt Disney as clients. After World War II, he worked with a number of independent production companies as well.

George Gallup had created one of the most commonly used polling services for decades to come. It also created a slew of competitors, including Harris Interactive and Yankelovich Partners.

Polls had moved from the political landscape to the popular culture. Journalists loved these polls. Polls created debate. Sparked conversation. Polls sold newspapers.

Cell Phone Etiquette
I conducted my first poll as a PR strategy in January 2000. I was working for a new dot com, We were competing against 10 other more established companies in the same space. We ran an inexpensive omnibus survey using Yankelovich and within weeks, we were featured in the New York Times.

In March 2000 the tech wreck hit and our expansive ad campaigns, marketing plans and ad agency went out the window. PR became a driving force behind the company's survival. We turned to surveys to drive that coverage.

At LetsTalk, we finally settled on the topic of cell phone etiquette. This topic, over the span of the next 5 years, got us predictable visibility in USA Today, New York Times, CNN, Consumer Reports and a myriad of other media sites.

Of the 10 companies we competed against in 2000, only LetsTalk is still in business, doing more than $100 million a year in annual sales.

Polling in Technology
As my career continued, I never forgot the power of polling. Omnibus polls. Polls of webinars. Polls of open source community. Every poll had some roll to play sparking discussions, and ultimately raising awareness.

I was reminded of this recently when a client launched a poll of more than 1,000 Java developers. Our poll told a story; and an unexpected one. This led to significant increase in media coverage (eWeek, JavaLobby, TheServerSide, CTOEdge and many other sites covered it); but it also increased web site traffic and the number of free trial product downloads skyrocketed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This was one of the busiest Marches I can remember. OSBC. CloudConnect. VoiceCon. EclipseCon. Gartner PCC. My clients seem to be going to them all.

But the grand daddy of them all is South by Southwest Interactive.

I didn't go. I didn't have clients going.

Still, seems the season for SXSW recaps. So based on my brief exposure to South by Southwest tweets, articles and blogs, here is my own "best of" list for 2010.

Best Tweet about Twitter's ads:
Nadja Blagojevic/Lewis PR
@NadjaB: I'll be excited to see what the Twitter ad platform looks like, but I hope we don't have to start talking about twads

Best interview by an Alcatel Lucent influencer management guy of an Alcatel Lucent marketing lady at the ElevenAPI lounge:
Mike Maney/Alcatel Lucent

Best "I have no reason for going but I wish I were there" tweet:
Ray George/Page One PR
@rgeorge28: I need to go to #SXSW in 2011

Best advice about SXSW:
Paul Carr/TechCrunch
"(SXSW) sucked last year, and it’s going to suck again this year. You’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise."

Most excited to meet Ashton Kutcher even though she was in Portland:
Jennifer Cloer/Linux Foundation
@jennifercloer: @the_spinmd if you don't buy you know who a drink frm me, well, that just might be the end of our friendship. hook a sista up.

Best Camera Phone Photo:
Lynn Fox/Palm
@foxycar: I feel so under dressed. #sxsw #austin #6th st

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fun with social media and SXSW

I am not going to South by Southwest (SXSW) this year. I have no clients going to SXSW this year (although I do have one client who recommends Elliott BROOD ...SXSW at The Legendary Continental Club on March 19).

I don't have much time to get distracted during the work day. I have an account with Filtrbox. I kind of geek out on PR.

So mixing these facts together today, here is a poorly thought out effort to oversimplify and track the social media buzz coming out of SXSW 2010.

If you need two opposing perspectives to get up to speed on SXSW:
- The fun: USA Today writes on GM/Chevy's "Amazing Race 2.0" leading up to SXSW
- The skeptic: Paul Carr from TechCrunch offers this advice "(SXSW) sucked last year, and it’s going to suck again this year. You’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise."

So before I go back to work, I did quick searches for big brands and sxsw and put these into social media search tool FiltrBox. I did this on Thursday, March 11 around 3 in the afternoon MT (Filtrbox only tracks mentions after I start a search - it does not track any mentions before that time). Filtrbox can give suspect results sometimes (especially when I move fast - plenty of room for my own user error) and they say they are going offline all weekend. Still will be fun to check in and see how various brands are faring.

Editor's note: With all due respect to Jon Swartz who wrote the USA Today story above, I noticed GM/Chevy's SXSW program a few days ago from a Tweet from Tammy Camp (@tammycamp on Twitter) and a nice follow up Tweet from one of GM's social media guys Christopher Barger (@cbarger). I've added #chevysxsw and #sxswsf, Tammy's team Amazing Race Team, to my tracking.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The media is still on the cloud computing bandwagon, but where are the clicks?

Microsoft plans to invest heavily in its cloud platform but expects to see little revenue for two to three years, Bob Muglia, the president of the server and tools business, said Tuesday.

Cloud computing is hyped, but it's no real surprise then that people aren't searching for “cloud computing” in the US on Google. This could be for many reasons - including real buyers are more sophisticated than to use the term "cloud computing" in their searches.

Still, some stats I found interesting:

  • Total number of news articles in past 6 months mentioning cloud computing: 10,626 (source: ITDatabase)
  • Local number of searches in January on Google for cloud computing: N/A (source: Google AdWords keyword tool for January, 2010)
  • Global number of searches in January on Google for cloud computing: 673,000 (Google AdWords keyword tool for January, 2010)
Digging down, I found that:
  • Although IBM is doing respectably well with its cloud PR initiatives, it significantly trails Google, Amazon and Microsoft's in terms of the number of searches for its cloud products.
  • Companies like Oracle and HP, despite some positive momentum recently, have a small percentage of the total share of voice around cloud computing from media perspective.
  • None of the major vendors do very well on organic search results for "cloud computing" on Google.
It could be that Oracle, IBM, VMWare and HP all agree with Microsoft that meaningful revenues around cloud computing are some years away. Based on what I see in the final column below, they certainly don't seem to see the value yet in optimizing SEO around cloud computing.

% of articles on cloud computing that mention specific vendor (source: ITDatabase)

Google AdWords: Total # of “vendor + cloud” searches

(e.g. # of searches for “Microsoft Cloud” and variants)

Google Organic: "vendor + cloud" Google Ranking. (e.g. what ranking Microsoft pages come up on “Microsoft Cloud”)

Google Organic: Google ranking for “cloud computing”




2, 5






Not in top 50




1, 3, 4





1, 2, 4





1, 4, 8





1, 2, 4

Not in top 50





Not in top 50




1, 2, 4





1, 2, 4, 5

Not in top 50

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Edited Headline: When Comedians Retweet

With all the good that comes from social media, sometimes you find things that are odd. Today was one of those days - a co-founder of a startup joked when he RTd something I said (note he changed the company names). Although I know of this guy's company, I had never spoken with him (or even heard of him) before.

The Tweets:
bret_clementTalking to software company who is using @pardot today. They liked it over LoopFuse, Marketo, etc.

royrussoRT @bret_clement Talking to software company who is using@loopfuse today. They liked it over Eloqua, Marketo, etc.

Quick Context
I work in tech PR. I started my own agency in April and have grown quickly (although I hired my first senior employee in August - I don't currently have capacity to take on any new clients).

As I work with my clients, and talk to people in the tech industry, the conversation often comes back to sales automation tools, CRM packages, etc. These tools provide so much opportunity for marketers and PR professionals who want to track their results (in terms of sales/dollars).

I am no expert in these tools. My former employer (but not me) worked with LoopFuse for awhile. After I started my own firm, I sat in on a LoopFuse demo (which was interesting and useful). Other clients use Pardot, MarketBright, Marketo and other tools and are happy with them.  I reached out to a few of these companies about potentially working with them because I was and remain so enthusiastic about what their products mean for marketing pros.

So when somebody today mentioned they had evaluated a few products and picked one I hadn't heard of,  I thought it was worth Tweeting. 

I didn't get Roy's joke at the time. To be honest, I lost my temper a bit at being misquoted like that.

But more important to me, this caused me to reflect a bit on my own use of Twitter. We all have our own reasons for using it. But I think WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) is right with its code of ethics. For corporations and startups using Twitter - transparency and honesty are important.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Agile PR: The Bearer of Reality

Earlier in my career, I worked with startups dedicated to software quality including Coverity and Agitar. These companies promoted more than their products, they promoted agile software development methodologies.

But it wasn’t until today when listening to Perficient's Kevin Sheen, Managing Director of Global Offshore Services, that I realized how it feels PR has become much more "agile". Especially as PR evolves into social media. 

For those who don’t know, agile software development is a methodology for developing software  code that involves frequent iterations, teamwork, collaboration and transparency. 

Keen said 75% of CIOs want some way to measure their software development performance, but only 33% do it. Among the reasons for not measuring performance: lack of discipline; lack of time/money and the tongue and cheek “we don’t want to be the bearer of reality.”

I suspect a similar disparity exists with PR pros. We all want to develop good metrics, but not everyone takes the time to do it or be thoughtful about what the metrics are.

But what struck me about the chat today is how recent PR launches I’ve done feel quite agile – both in their methodologies and their metrics of success.

Keen listed a few agile methodologies and metrics for success. I’ve taken his categories and added how my own experiences with recent launches apply.

Agile PR Methodologies:

  • High degree of transparency – The social media elements around a launch today take a lot of time; especially if part of your goal is to monitor and engage target communities online in the places they frequent whether that be blogs, LinkedIn, Google Groups or Twitter. If you decide to outsource a lot of this monitoring/response work to an agency, it might require frequent (daily) updates with clients (unless you trust them implicitly to understand your positioning and online voice).
  •  Iterative methodologies – Just as with agile development, the moving parts around PR launches today are much more complicated. You now have to monitor and promote your messages through various channels. Something said on Twitter can change your timeline; your targets or how you approach the launch. You have everything planned out at the beginning, but each day is filled with mini plans. Iterative plans can include specific Tweets, comments to blogs, pitches, content creation (videos, screencasts, press releases, blogs, etc) that can change on the fly.
  • Tracking Changes – Keen calls his overseas project teams nightly and looks at a dashboard monitoring their process. PR doesn’t have slick tools like agile software to track their progress daily by a variety of metrics, but even if the process is manual, you need to be able roll up all the information each day into something understandable and actionable for client. For us, it was daily detailed agendas and a weekly PPT dashboard aimed to help other executives at the startup, not involved in the day to day, quickly understand the status of the launch. Anybody who has worked with me knows I hate busy work, but in this environment, clear communication about the ever changing landscape was a key value that we brought the client.


Agile PR Dimensions of Success:

  • Quality – This is the big one and where most good PR agencies are putting a lot of time. How many visits did your launch drive to your clients web site according to Google Analytics? How many of those converted to sales? How many people watched the video? How viral was your messaging on Twitter? How many people downloaded the product?
  • Predictability – In the software development world, predictability is “how close cost estimates come to actuals.” Part of me think this doesn’t apply to PR agencies who work on retainers – the amount of work involved with integrated PR/social media campaigns right now means they are probably doing a lot more work than you are paying for. The model is turned around – no matter how hard your agency works you have to have metrics to evaluate if the results are worth it in the end.

Dangers of Staff Churn

Offshore outsourcing has another similarity to PR agencies – the churn of the teams doing the work. Just as PR agencies can churn 50% of the staff over a year’s time – so do the offshore development teams. One US company got so frustrated by the churn (and the ongoing loss of familiarity to their project) that they literally asked for pictures of each member of the development team.

It's a little simplistic to drill down too far in the new parallels between PR and agile software development - but certainly the parallels exist.




Social Media - The Active Listener