Posts Tagged Tech Crunch

What’s More Exciting? Van Gogh, Twitter or Mars Lander?

vangogh-starry_night_ballance1All day and night on Twitter, Mashable, and Tech Crunch, San Francisco Bay Area technistas gabble and babble about the latest news of tech startups, social media websites, venture capital firms, and celebrity entrepreneurs that most people have never heard of. This week I had a break from that insanity while working on a client engagement in Amsterdam, Holland.

After 2.5 days of thoughtful and engaging branding and marketing strategy, I spent my last few hours at the Van Gogh Museum and sought to feel and absorb the brilliance of Van Gogh through some 200 paintings, along with works of his influencers, peers and contemporaries.

19th Century romantic artists like Van Gogh found God in Nature. They consciously made the connection and Van Gogh clearly sought to convey that higher awareness through his work. Decades of learning with my Guru Sri Chinmoy helped make me aware of the God-Nature connection for sure. What was cool for me what I could feel it in Van Gogh’s work. What a profound gift to close out my Amsterdam visit.

So I’m back in San Francisco (no sleep yet) plugging into the latest news about who’s leaving Yahoo, changes at Facebook, and the plethora of information available through Twitter which has just gone down yet again. And that Mars Lander is delivering some awesome images (ice on Mars???) so scientists managing that project must ecstatic.

What’s more exciting for you? Van Gogh and God in Nature, Twitter’s latest news, or the Mars Lander?

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My Reality Check: Backlash Against PR

20709252Over the past year, several prominent tech journalists and bloggers have complained against PR people who would appear to spam them with irrelevant pitches.

Tech blogger Stowe Boyd wrote a post titled, “The Growing Backlash Against PR Spam, And The Rationale For MicroPR.” He writes, “The root cause here is the delusion on the part of the clients that this sort of PR carpet bombing works, that mass media messages embedded in a press release or press release-ish email work, and that we, the bloggers, actually react positively to this junk.”

Wired editor Chris Anderson wrote a post at The Long Tail titled, “Sorry PR people: you’re blocked” and listed the emails of PR spammers who were on his email blacklist. Several prominent San Francisco PR firms were included.

My reaction to this is a comment added at Stowe’s blog and already posted as a comment at PROpenMic:

Move outside the early adopter, Bay Area-centric community of inventors, innovators and thought leaders, and dive into the information eco-system of a few other billion-dollar marketplaces (food processing, biotechnology, manufacturing, etc.), and the reality check is this: Few thought leaders have heard of Stowe Boyd and bloggers who write for Tech Crunch, Mashable, and GigaOm, because they could care less about technology’s leading edge. They’re already making tons of money selling meat, poultry, drugs, toys and paper goods, and the last thing they’re doing is Twittering with their community of friends. They’re out there enjoying life and that does not include 24/7 commentaries on the evolution of social media tools and tactics.

I happen to live in both worlds. My clients span tech unsophisticates who’ve never heard of Michael Arrington, as well as tech innovators like Webshots, Jaiku and Jaduka, who’ve helped drive tech’s leading edge. So I try to approach PR being sensitive to how my audiences (writers and bloggers) want to be approached with information. Every media relationship is important and I’d like to believe I’m trying to build friendships based on conversation, intelligence and respect.

Years ago when I headed technology at Middleberg, we published a State of the Media report, and tracked how technology was changing how PR people were communicating with the media. Back in 1999-2000 email was the rage, replacing snail mail and kitchy press kits. Half a decade later, we have social media and a new group of influencers, especially in tech and music. Bloggers and blogs have emerged as the new tastemakers. We read popular blogs because their writers are smart. And their blogs have caught on because of several other factors: right place, right time, good brand personality, etc.

A few are monetizing their blogs and selling ads, organizing conferences and raising capital needed to grow into giant media empires. So surprise, surprise: PR people are looking for ways to build influence with bloggers.

What I enjoy about the tech community here in the Bay Area (I am a recent transplant from NY) is that bloggers are not just writing about tech. They are helping us think through the future. They are passionate about the subject areas they cover, and their currency is often sheer intelligence, because chances are they’re not making tons of money writing. And so what they are really looking for from PR people is something to write about that’s new, interesting, and relevant. And maybe a conversation about your client that helps inform them…and one devoid of the crap that fills their in-boxes day after day.

The problem is they are being inundated with crap and it’s getting worse. So I agree with Stowe, Brian Solis, and others: we need to change the premise, approach and the tools. The press release as a tool for driving stories is essentially dead and has been for sometime. Yet there is a place for the press release as a placeholder for a company’s story, and it does have some life in slow-adopter industries. Pitch letters need to be informational, and not promotional. In other words, let the recipient of your pitch decide whether or not your client’s product/service is relevant. That’s their call. Make a case, offer an opinion, suggest other thought leaders who might inform your case, and then get out of the way.

I also believe that there’s something to be said for honesty. You’re being hired to elevate a client’s products and services. It might help if you actually believed in what you were selling and showed passion. My advice to PR folks out there: if you are selling crap, drop the client and save your reputation. If you cannot make a convincing case for your client, don’t bother. Instead, work for another client.

In 1998, my client Xing was pitching their digital video encoding technology. Only problem was, the Internet was still virtually dial-up. So I said in all good faith and in spite of their nice retainer, I cannot sell this; what else are you doing? They said a few of their developers/interns had written an MP3 encoder/decoder software. I thought …hmmm, that’s new. It might work, and it took a few hours to realize we were talking massive changes in how music was shared and sold. By end of the year, I was working with the five leading companies in the MP3 space riding the Wave that became digital music. Lesson: promote stuff that is relevant and leave the rest to the hacks.

A few years ago I pitched a NY Times reporter on a telecommunications story, and he blew me off. I replied with a powerful, passionate argument and he ended up running a story that was good for the client. He later told me I’d won him over with a logical case. Now he reads my emails. Lesson is… sell smart. Make smart your leading edge and the currency that drives sustainable relationships.

Lets move away from “BS” and share info on products/services in ways that respect the intelligence of bloggers and press. If they want a pitch at news@mytechblog.com, then send it there. If they want you to use the Force, then lets go intuitive. I’m a longtime meditator; I might have an edge.

And rather than pitch and sell, simply provide information. When I was talking to a reporter at the Wall Street Journal last year about Jaiku, we found our way to a story on page B1. The conversation was simply, take a look at Jaiku, here are the players in the microblogging space, here are the comments of analysts and bloggers who feel Jaiku is relevant, and here is where I think the sector is going. After that, the reporter did his thing.

At SxSW, I sat down for lunch with Stowe Boyd and a client to discuss their technology. Frankly, I wanted Stowe to help influence the company as much as I wanted him to find something to write about among that company’s products and services. Then two weeks ago, one of my people re-pitched Stowe about the same client. I apologized to Stowe. Unfortunately, shit happens even in my shop, and it’s gonna take time for us to fix a PR methodology that is broken, as Stowe, Brian and others suggest.

Funny things is, my guy who wrote to Stowe is incredibly effective in PR and he readily delivers stories that land in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, US News and CNN. And he does this as easily as someone in SF can place a story in Mashable or Tech Crunch. In the transformative Bay area PR tech world, my guy might be dead meat. And I’m not sure he is tech savvy enough to understand that he is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Patience is needed here on all sides. It’s going to take time before PR practitioners find an approach that satisfies Chris Anderson and Stowe Boyd. But, let the complaints continue. Because that’s the only way to drive change.

At the same time, if we think the rest of the world is ready for the new social media release format, sorry. It’s going to take time for the slow adopters to catch up to the brilliance emerging in the PR space out here in SF. And so my NY guy still has a long life.

I’ve been in this business for two decades. Yet, more than ever, I consider myself a student of PR and believe me, I’m listening, learning and adjusting my own game so that the conversation that comes from myself and colleagues from my agency, is intelligent, considerate, honest and respectful. If we start there, we can find the means for delivering on the promise.

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