Doing Good PR

Embrace the horror of bad review

Companies large and small worry about online reviews, almost to a point of paranoia, without ever finding the value in them.  In today’s social world, the best review may be a bad one, depending on how you react to it.  Let me offer two bad examples and two good.  Yelp-bad-reviews

A winery owner was freaked out over bad reviews on Yelp and asked for our help in “getting rid of them.”  We did an analysis of the reviews and found that one of the 72 reviews was negative about the product of the winery and two were from a former business partner that went their way acrimoniously.  Most were glowing reports of the wines and, in particular, the unique collection of ports they produced.  Several were highly complementary of the facilities and and the services.  However, within the high praise for the product were multiple negative comments about the lackadaisical attitude of the staff and the public arguments between the owners of the business.  What was “killing” them on Yelp was something that was easily fixed: Don’t argue in front of your customers and get rid of employees who aren’t there to work.  They had a hard time understanding that.


Then there was one that happened to me recently.  I decided to order some pasta sauce online rather than go to the supermarket for it.  It arrived four days after the promised delivery date and the jars had shattered in the inadequate packaging.  According to the postal service, they picked it up like that and ended up having to label it a biohazard. I went to the store to get my sauce and then requested a refund.  It took them a day to respond, but before they did, they requested a review of their service.  So I did and gave them the lowest rating.  That prompted them to call me and said they would give me a full refund IF I removed the review.  It wasn’t an insulting review, it was just honest and removing a review from Amazon is not easy.  Plus they conditioned my refund based on my action.  They might have gotten a better response if they had offered to make it right.  I think they got what they deserved and I learned a valuable lesson about ordering pasta sauce online.

Now for some good examples.

A student at a local preschool fell in a playground and hit his head on a tree root.  The injury was quite bloody but there was no serious damage.  The school employees responded quickly and the child received medical aid and evaluation.  The parent, however, charged the school with negligence, which was determined to be without cause.  Undeterred, she launched a Yelp campaign with multiple fake accounts.  It was easy to determine that it was the same person because she made the exact same spelling and grammatical errors in each post, and copied whole sections from each.  The director sought our advice and we first suggested going to her and seeing what could be done, but the woman was not convinced and continued her campaign.  Our counsel was to enlist the help of other parents, telling them exactly what the issue was and asking them to go on Yelp to state their own concerns and reviews.  The result was a wave of positive comments that raised the approval rating of the school and pushed the negative reviews to the bottom.  

Finally, your unhappy customers can become your best friends.  There was a tire shop that called us in to help them launch a modest social media program using Yelp and Facebook.  Everything was going well and sales jumped 600 percent in three months requiring the addition of personnel and new equipment.  But the fly in the ointment was a very negative comment by one customer on Yelp.  It wa so negative the shop owner wanted to pull business from Yelp.  We offered a different perspective. 

We had the owner personally call up the customer, apologize for the problem and ask for specific details of what had upset her.  The owner got a good perspective on a weakness in his business, offered to fix the problem and throw in a free service.  The customer came back, was more than satisfied with the new service and started raving about the business on Facebook and amended her review on Yelp.  That one customer has become an ambassador for the business.

Social reviews can kill your business, but they can also be a substantive force for positive change.  Don’t fear them.  Embrace the horror.

Media directories and press release services for small companies can be overwhelming

I've been involved in a discussion on Linkedin for the past week regarding finding affordable media directories and most of the discussion has been pitches from sales people at media directors and press release services.  Funny how that works.  Of course, none of the pitches actually answers the question asked.  Funny how that works, too.

Here was the question: OverwhelmedonlyI'm interested to know if anyone can tell me of an inexpensive online media directory vs. Cision and others. I just need it for some circulation figures and a few other items.

The questioner wasn't looking for  how to reach editors or produce content, or send out press releases.  She just wanted to get some circulation figures.  The answer, of course, is at the public library where you can find the information in several directories for free.  You can also sign-up for a free membership to BPA Worldwide and do a search.  I'm actually surprised how many PR and Advertising professionals do not know about either of those resources.  

There are several organizations that offer your own hard copy or paid-for online service for a significant fee.  Of course "significant" is a matter of degree.  if you are a large advertising firm with millions in revenue, you can always buy the information for use in house and pass the cost on to your clients.  If you are a one- or two-person operation, those services tend to eat into your budget and clients notice the extra fee.

Then comes the add-on services, like press release distribution, monitoring, analytics, etc. There is something to be said for having some of that service purchased, but whether you should choose one over the other is harder.  Business Wire and PR Newswire are the biggest and most comprehensive, but most corporate marketing people, and few consultants know how to use most of the service you pay for... and you can end up paying through the nose for most of it if you don't know what you are doing.  The sales reps will help you work your way through it, but only if you ask.

Sor those that don't understand how to use the services, that's where the cut-rate services are attractive because they will still do exactly what you get out of the big guys and are sent to pretty much the same people.  There is very little difference.

That is why I recommend that if you truly want to be professional about reaching journalists, you need to build your own list and maintain it.  The wire services boast of the 10s of thousands of journalists and analysts on their list, but it is likely that unless you are selling beer or boner pills, you don't need to know how to reach every single journalist on your list.  You need to reach less than a dozen.  And building a relationship that gets you the coverage you need will take time.  It can't be automated and you can't buy it in a one-size-fits-all service.

The secret of inexpensive, inefficient press releases revealed

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

If you are like most companies, especially young start ups, there comes a moment that you believe you Wallet_Chain_iStock_000007692365XSmall
need to let your customer base know about your latest business deal, technology breakthrough, or product update that is industry leading and the quote says your “CEO is pleased to announce it”. The only problem; you spent your entire marketing budget on a trade show booth and brochures, so you don't have the money to put on a real marketing program to reach your customer base. That's the moment that you decide to put out a press release.

My 20 years of experience writing and distributing press releases tells me this is what you can expect:

It will take weeks to get it ready to go, and you will spend 90 percent of the time on the headline, the quote from the CEO (which is almost always the same) and the rambling paragraph at the end of the release called "the boilerplate." The release will end up to be a minimum of 3 pages long, single-spaced in 10 point type. If you are "web savvy" it will be stuffed with key words. If not, the distribution service you choose will identify the key words for you. Then you will look for a PR pro to reach out to the press on your behalf, all the while believing the entire process will cost a few hundred dollars. This when sticker shock kicks in: Cost of:

  • A real PR pro to use his contact base - $2000

  • Release distribution service to a nationwide circuit - $3,000

  • Man-hours of your team to write the release - 40 (your CFO can determine what that cost is specific to your particular company)

  • Printing 1000 copies of the release to hand out at the trade show - $2000 at Kinkos, including staples

Most companies, hearing this price tag and after the CFO has been brought back to consciousness, will find ways to cut the bill. The first thing to go will be the PR pro. He might be replaced by a 25-year-old publicist recently out of college, looking for full time work, who will spend 20 hours researching and bugging journalists she's never met to talk to your CEO. She'll do it for $500 and flirt with the marketing VP who will suggest the company hire her to be a receptionist.

The next thing to go will be the high-end, reputable wire service for a cut rate service that will do the job for $2,000 (or worse yet, you could go with one of the hundreds of free distribution services available) but with a less extensive reporting system, a less extensive distribution list. And upon reflection, maybe you only need 100 copies of the release for the trade show. So you’ve got it down below $2500, not counting the man-hours it took to come to this decision. If you choose to stop there you can guarantee that when you do the web search for the release it will show up on every news site in the world, including the weekly shopper in Akron, Ohio. But if that’s still a little pricier than you want, a little bit of knowledge about how wire services work can really cut the price.

Every wire distribution service has circuits that restrict distribution to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York metropolitan areas. Pick one, because every news agency you really care about has a feed coming from those areas (including the shopper in Akron), but the cost is less than $500, including some analysis service add-ons. But you aren't out of the woods, yet.

Every respectable distribution service out there limits the amount of the news release to approximately 400 words. There will be a $50 fee for every 100 words over the limit.  Your approved draft is running at about 2500 words so your overage fee will be around $700. You are under $2,000, but we can tweak a bit more.

Even if your publicist gets a dozen journalists to talk to you (more likely it will be one) and even if you see it gets run on the websites of thousands of online sites, a careful perusing of your metrics after one month will show around 500 people will actually open up the release. More than half will be the marketing and sales people from your company and the marketing and sales people from your competitors. About a quarter of them will be click farms on the Indian subcontinent. About 15 percent will be spammer scraping the page for email addresses and about 10 percent will be actual journalists. An even closer perusal of the metrics will find one journalist will actually spend more than 5 seconds reading it. And within 6 months, a potential customer might also find it. That is what I discovered doing press releases and watching metrics of companies from billion-dollar multinationals to startups.

Sometimes, when it is actually newsworthy, the results are better, but that’s what you get, in general. So why go to the trouble if that’s all you get? Because it will boost your SEO, it will give you content for your website and it will make your investors and executives feel good about themselves because they see the company name on the interweb tubes.

But you say ego gratification is not worth that cost? So let’s cut it even more. Remember how I said you would spend most of the time on the headline, quote and boilerplate? Forget the quotes. All journalists (your target audience after all) know they are contrived. That will cut 200 words. Reduce the boiler plate to “For more information go to www…..” with a phone number. Make sure the URL goes to a landing page where you can gather information from whoever visits. That cuts another 200 words. Reduce the headline to one line (25 words gone). The lead paragraph should be no more than 50 words (cutting another 200). Stop talking about how you are an industry leader (real leaders never have to say they are) which cuts about 1000 words. Just give the basic information. That should take you below the 400-word limit.

Cut the publicist altogether, no matter how cute she is, but stick with a reputable service like BusinessWire or PRNewswire. You will look more professional. You are now under $1000 for the entire project and will get the exact same result you would have seen for thousands of dollars more.

Now go out and be that cheap, inefficient company we all know you can be.

Before you can tell the truth, you need to know it.

For our second part of the series on truth in media I think it’s important that we define the term. 

Truth is multifaceted and largely determined by perspective.  This is a crucial understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says what you perceive from where you stand may not jive with the perception of someone standing right next to you.  Media, from the beginnings of the oral tradition to mass media of the 20th century was designed to create a common perspective for large groups of people and take away some of the debate over what is true.

The media of the of the 20th century was controlled by a relatively few corporations and individuals and reached millions of people.  That made it possible to maintain a certain control over a specific message and establish a few facets of truth as common to the masses.  This was the basis of McLuhan’s concept of the “media is the message.” Large groups of people could be convinced of a particular facet of truth simply because the message was drilled into them from a relatively small number of outlets. Truth became “obvious.”

The 21st century changed that paradigm.  Individuals, through the internet and social media, became members of the media.  They could publish their own perspective to a small group of people.  The masses are broken into virtual communities defined more by their perspective of truth rather than geography, culture and even race or religion.

The corporation or organization that doesn’t realize this to be the new way of perception will be very frustrated in its attempts to push its version of reality/truth if it continues to follow the 20th century practice of driving the message until it is perceived as true.  It is imperative that the message incorporates as many facets as possible into its message in order to gain the trust of its market.  Let me elaborate with a story.

A company has a new product that it has created and wants to promote it to its market.  The teams in charge of developing this product has invested a great deal of time, expertise and effort into creating this product and they believe everything they say about it.  They have even validated their message by investing in market research from a large analyst company.  They launch their product into the market, sure that they have done all that is necessary.

Shortly after the launch, a customer has problems with the product and calls technical support.  After many frustrating sessions he opts to return the product, but since technical support could find nothing wrong with it, the company refuses to take the product back.  After all, he’s just one customer and no one else has complained.

It turns out the customer is a fairly well-respected technical blogger and he starts writing a series on his experiences with the company.  A journalist at a major newspaper starts reading the blog and writes a story about it.  The news spreads like wildfire and multiple other customers who have not been as vocal start chiming in.  By the end of 6 months the company has lost billions in market capitalization as its stock plummets.  The company ends up publicly apologizing and delivering an adequate product.

That’s not a fiction.  That actually happened to Dell Computer.  The blogger and his site “Dell Hell” still exists and has been since 2008.

All Dell had to do was consider, just for a moment, the perspective one customer considers as true and realize if there is one, there are more.

Every customer you have has a perspective different from your company.  Every employee has a different perspective from your company.  Every competitor has a different perspective from your company.  That is the ultimate truth in business communication.  If you are not making an attempt to listen to those perspectives everyday and considering how you can positively respond to them, you do not know what is true.

Custom content and complaining about the weather

Wow.  I've been getting an earful for several weeks about the changes in B2B media,especially in the embedded, semi and electronics industry.  One might think it's Armegeddon.

One PR maven just came out and said that the efforts of companies like Cadence, Intel and Altera to produced independent content is a smoke screen and that they are "clearly" not objective.  And yet when I've heard the same thing from others, no one can produce any CLEAR evidence that the content is anything but objective... at least as objective as a human being can be.

Like climate change, humans have had a significant hand in creating the current environment and, like climate change scientists, there are those who say it needs to be reversed and those (like me) who say we need to adapt.  Why do I take that position?  Because no one knows how to reverse it.

Let me be very clear, here: unless advertisers decide to quadruple their ad buys, like, tomorrow, nothing is going to go back to the way it was.  Why quadruple? Because that's how much the advertising budgets have been cut since 1999.  To make up for that loss, media companies have had to identify new forms of revenue.  Sometimes it's in the form of selling placement of news releases in a box on the online page.  Sometimes it's in the form of selling space for "contributed" articles.  Sometimes it's in events.  Sometimes it's in custom content.

And here's the thing: Marcom and PR folks are MORE than willing to promote companies that way.  They are NOT willing, however, to quit working for companies that prefer NOT to by ad space.

Make no mistake, display advertising is what made journalism, PR and marcom effective for several decades.  But when it became possible to get news releases distributed "for free" on the internet and media companies started accepting brochures in the form of "contributed articles" in pay-for-play programs, the effectiveness of it all became questionable.

So we are faced with two possibilities: either force corporations to start advertising again and let other people be concerned about ethics, or learn how to adapt to the current environment that REQUIRES individual commitment to ethics.

State of the Media in the 21st Century Report

This blog actually began in 1995 as the State of the Media Annual Report to our clients in 1995.  In 2000 as media started to contract and editorial staffs were cut, it came out twice a year, than quarterly.  Then we started this blog, Communications Basics to make distribution easier and to expand into discussions about how corporate communications was changing best practices. 

In 2013 we are seeing a solidifying of the media industry around several disparate niches and have discovered how media will work for the foreseeable future. We are in the process of compiling our observations into a white paper on the State of the Media in the 21st Century.  The focus is primarily on the electronics and embedded software industry that we have served for many years, but the concepts are applicable in multiple industries.

But instead of giving it away as we have in the past we are asking for something in return.  We want to talk to the people who are in a position to make the changes needed to succeed.  If you are that kind of person, fill out the form on this page and, after we evaluate what you say about yourself, we’ll send it to you at no charge, with the understanding that we may be contacting you about doing business together.

If you don’t want to go through the evaluation, or if you don’t qualify we offer two options: Either pay a fee for the report, or give us the contact information of someone in your organization who does qualify. We will send it to them and they can share it with you.  Sound fair?

You can sign up at our website or fill out the form right here.  


The filters of good content

Continuing on with our discussion about good content, I've come across some fascinating data regarding how customers in the world of semiconductor design are consuming it and what it means for social media.  Let's start with a poll taken by a company I've been consulting to in recent weeks.

The company wanted to get some attention from a select segment of customers.  The company estimates that their entire customer base consists of a few thousand people worldwide and they only need to reach a small part of that to be successful.  So they were looking into ways to best reach them.  Good content was a given in their estimation, but how to create that content and how to deliver it most efficiently was the question.  They had an assumption on what would be the best path that I questioned so I asked them to do something: talk to your current and potential customer about where they get their information.

I've asked my clients to do this for many years, but no one has ever done it.  They prefer to stick with assumptions.  I was stunned when this new company took me up on the idea.  And they went about it with a scientifically significant sampling.  What they discovered verified what I was telling them about the media, but also came up with some surprising results even for me.

What was not surprising (to me) was that the publications they thought about targeting with their content barely registered or did not register at all with their audience.  What was also not surprising was that EE Times and EDN were a virtual tie for first. I generally lump these two together since they are both UBM products and generally serve the same audience though for different purposes (more on that later).

What was mildly surprising was that Chip Design and came in tied for third and that John Cooley's DeepChip did not register at all.  I actually thought that the three would be much closer, but as I thought about it, what Chip Design and D&R focus on is generally a much higher level in semiconductor design.  That's a significant bit of information (more on that later, too.)

What knocked me out of my seat, however, was what came in a solid second.  


I've been following Linkedin for quite a while.  In fact, it was the first social media platform I ever got involved with.  However, until the past couple of years, it just kinda sat there in my browser bookmarks.  That changed in 2010 when I was able to help a client make a contact with a significant potential customer using my Linkedin contacts.  In that process I discovered groups and now belong to and, in some instances, moderate 31.  Some people have called my involvement scattered and can't imagine being able to follow that much, but the results of this survey showed my Linkedin involvement is not that remarkable.  The respondents stated they get their dose of news and opinion from 20 or more different groups.

But none of that information is actually original content.  It's based on content that group members have screened and found valuable... from places like EE Times, EDN and Chip Design.  

In my last post I said that readers are using social media to filter content.  This is a perfect example of how they are doing it.  They are relying on peers and trusted sources to scan through the content and then endorse it.  Most of the groups have moderation filters in place (people like me) who look at suggested content first before allowing it to be disseminated.  The content comes from other trusted sources (like Chip Design and EE Times) and then can be commented upon by members.

And because Linkedin has carefully adopted the image of a businesslike site, you don't get a lot of socio/political spam.

Linkedin was, at one time, the realm of HR managers and job seekers.  It still is very much that, but it has morphed into much more.  It has become a curation site for business information and, as a result, has become an increasingly important channel for  organizations that develop trusted content.  

There have been a few articles recently talking about the fiscal value of Linkedin over Twitter and Facebook.  Part of it is that Linkedin doesn't just get revenue from advertising, but also from subscriptions and job listings, keeping the overall cash flow positive. But the fact that it has proven valuable to business more than developing casual acquaintances has also kept it's stock value high (106 for LI vs 21 Facebook at this writing).  It has kept is focus much narrower and is therefore more broadly valued.  In that point let's go back to the issues of EETimes/EDN and Chip Design.

Fractured vs Focused Readership

The survey showed, as I said, that EE Times and ECN were in a dead heat for readers, which doesn't bother UBM at all, but the respondents said something interesting about EE Times: they approach the massive amounts of content in many different ways.  Some read the newsletters only, some just one or two DesignLine pages, some the weekly digital version, some the videos, some the online front page.  One even mentioned EE Times Confidential.  The audience for EE Times is highly fractured.  They can claim total readership in the millions but with so many channels, the chance that the content about your company will reach the eyeballs of your target audience is just a crap shoot.  Not so much for EDN, however.  The driving number of EDN readers say they go directly to for their content and move from there.  So getting front and center there means you get more potential readers for your material.  The downside is it is tougher to get through the editorial filter of EDN than it is for the multiple channels of EE Times.

That being said, channels like Chip Design and D&R give access to a much more select audience focused on issues more specific than EE Times and EDN, and the name of the game in media for high tech is not quantitative but qualitative (Point of order, the survey showed that everyone who reads Chip Design and D&R also read UBM content).

Companies need to look at media non-exclusively. You can't rule out the big media names and you can't assume that just because you like a style of writing that everyone else feels the same way.  My consultee was considering putting all their eggs in a single media bucket because they assumed that the bucket was the best possible choice.  A careful consideration can demonstrate that obvious choices are not necessarily good choices and the best choices are those that take time and effort to foster.  Social media can help, in a big way.

There's Media, then there's media, part 4

 We come now to a discussion of earned media, which we will attack in two parts.  Today were going to look at search results as earned media.

 We've touched on this in earlier discussions.  Not all search results are earned media, especially if you've paid for placement, but they can be considered earned if you've put the effort into making your content accessible through proper SEO practices.  

 One of the main ingredients in proper earned media is effort.  Earned media takes more effort to get than paid or owned media, but is an order of magnitude more valuable than the others because people tend to trust it.  As I've said earlier, the aspects of search that can be paid for (keywords, SEO gaming and outright pay for placement) have lessened the value, but if done right, it can be very beneficial to your communications program.

 For now.

 A few months ago, Google announced that it was changing the way in approached search and while a few people have made pronouncements of doom, few people who have actual responsibility over search have expressed any concern.  Which tells me they are clueless or just ignoring the problem.

 In short, Google has realized that search as they created it has been gamed out of its value.  They are revamping the way they do it to diminish the importance of keywords in search and increasing the importance of what people do with information on the net.  That will include what they consume, what they buy, who they are friends with, who they share with and what they share.  In other words, social media is going to be the key.

 I don't want to get into whether this is good or bad.  It just is.  And combined with the next point in this post, it will take SEO search out of the realm of earned media almost completely. Now, point two.

 We've recently survived what could be the death of a free internet in the US over the PIPA and SOPA legislation that died in Congress last week, in no small part to the widespread online protests.  But even if those kind of laws never come back to haunt us, we still have the virtually unknown ACTA that has snuck in on us internationally.

 In short, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is currently before the Senate and EU for ratification and is essentially the same as the PIPA and SOPA laws... only we don't get a say in how it is enforced.  It gives international governments the right to shut down websites for the alleged theft of intellectual property.  That means all someone has to do is level a charge of theft against you.  That means trouble for a lot of sites that feature contributed articles.

 I've been involved in developing contributed articles for corporations for many years and realized how deep the problem was when an article I wrote for one corporation showed up in a major electronics trade publication under the byline of an executive of another corporation, who never worked for my client, 10 years later.  Doing an internet search I found the same article three times attributed to three different authors.  PIPA, SOPA and ACTA mean an end to that practice.  Companies will have to create original content for their sites or face having their websites shut down.

 A hallmark of a successful social media strategy is sharable content.  If you fill your sites with plagiarized material you not only face the possibility of being shut down, but you end up with a site that no one will share with others.  Original, interesting and focused material keeps you safe from copyright infringement but starts you on a path to creating real earned media.

 Stay tuned.


There's media and then, there's media , Part 3

Contributed articles became a very big deal during the Web 1.0 boom.  Suddenly, print and online publications had a huge need for new content.  Not only did publications start running news releases, verbatim, but they started asking companies to write opinion and analysis about their own industries.  Public Relations companies were flying high organizing the rush of opportunities.  Then the boom busted.  Publications started disappearing, mostly print but several online publications as well and both journalists and PR folks started looking for other means of income.

That did not, however, stop the demand for contributed articles.  The publishing world found that they could fill a lot of space, especially on line, with opinion, white papers, technical documents and presentations that they didn't have to pay for and could cut their newsroom budgets even more.  When webinars came around, they could actually charge companies to put their crappy power point presentations on the publication websites when they couldn't get them to buy advertising space.

Much of this material was managed by sales/marketing/pr departments and it is considered "earned media" because it doesn't directly sell products or services.  It isn't, though.  It's still owned media and edges into purchased media more often than not.  It is two steps up from advertising, one step up from press releases and it still doesn't reach into the realm of trustworthy media.

Moreover, it probably gets read/viewed less than press releases, according to many senior editors I talk to.  Most contributed articles get significant engagement, judging from the comments that follow publication online, but the publications say very vew people are actually reading them.  Those that do are mostly the author, the people that work for the author, the PR firm hired to place the article, the marketing department of the company the author works for, and the competitors who want the publication to run a rebuttal.

So to wrap up, before we get into truly trustworthy content, Websites, marketing material, press releases and contributed articles are all owned content, even if they make it to a third-party site.  They are viewed as slightly more trustworthy than advertising, but not by much.  To be trustworthy, content must be created by and published by a third party that is specifically engaged to be as objective as possible.  That will be the next post.

Dragging Social Media into the 20th Century

Regular readers of this blog know I'm a very big proponentn of the communication benefit of social media, especially it's innate ability to raise the level of communication above that of typical marketing bullshit.  You just can't control the message in social media.

Or so I thought.

In a recent tweet, Tom Foremski, the Silicon Valley Watcher, he dug out a 4-year-old Tech Crunch post from a Stanford engineering puke about how to get videos to go viral.  The author stated, quite frankly, that his methods violate the intent of sites like YouTube and provide several layers of misdirection to get views in seven figures for his clients.  In other words, he lies about the content to force viewers to see things that they really don't care about and wouldn't normally download.

In the past few months I've come into contact with services to guarantee app downloads of 100,000 or more; payment for forwarding tweets (I tried it to see what they were talking about and got disgusted after the first offer); and the ubiquitous SEO services that guarantee more web traffic.

So the basic method for marketing of the 20th Century is being force fed to the communications engine of the 21st. That's not a good thing, especially for companies that are attempting to follow that path.

The primary rule of sociual media is: "Don't @#$% with people."  You will be found out and it will be on display everywhere.  I've heard it said that the best way to ensure ethical behavior is to increase the likelihood you will be caught doing something unethical.  The problem is there is no ethical standardfor social media as yet.  There isn't even a dominant social media industry organization.  And when you have a vacuum like that, bad things happen.  Like lawyers and legislators.

I wrote earlier this week about good legislation that actually helps the industry int he long run, but when people unfamiliar with the basics of an industry get around to writing laws about the industry, lots of bad things can go wrong very quickly.

Don't be a marketing putz.  Learn the value of social media and don't try to cram it into your 20th-Century marketing box.  If you don't know how, hire someone who does and keep out of their way.

What are the chances your launch will succeed? I'll tell you.

I have been a professional communicator for almost 40 years now and have seen a lot of stuff come and go.  One thing I have learned is that there is no sure thing in a communications program, but you can increase your chances of succeeding in an uncertain world.  What is success?  The bottom line is always, increasing the bottom line. Your communications program should either get you more sales or additional funding. Failing that, it should get you more exposure in the available press, beyond just a repeat of your press release off a wire service.  If you get neither of those, then your effort was a failure.

When I go into a company, I can pretty much determine if they can get where they want to go with what they have put into place and what they need to improve their chances.  After more than 20 years in the PR and journalism business I have made some mental calculations that I employ to reach my conclusion. Over for the past few weeks, as I have been getting email after email and phone call after phone call about helping companies with trade show announcements I decided to do a matrix. 

I went back over my records and notes of the past 10 years (which is when everything started to change) and looked at what companies that succeeded have done, and where they have failed, and combined them with my own efforts of success and failure.  I discovered what seems to be a very simple and effective way to provide percentages on what your chances are of a product or company launch succeeding.

So here's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to give you a list of yes/no and multiple choice questions in this post.  Send me an email at lou (at) footwashermedia dot com with your answers, and I will give youthat percentage. No charge.  If you want more detailed analysis, we can talk.  Here are the questions:


Do you have a marketing budget? (Yes or No)

Is that budget more or less than 2 percent of your finding/revenue (More or Less)

What percentage of that budget is devoted to:

  • Trade shows

  • Sales

  • Third party agencies or consultants

  • Public relations

  • Social Media

  • Advertising

  • Collateral

  • Salaries


Is the person in charge of marketing...

  • C-level?

  • VP level?

  • Director level?

Is that person also in charge of sales? (Yes or No)

Does that person report to sales (Yes or No)

What education does that person have

  • Engineering degree

  • Communications degree

  • MBA

What is their experience in marketing?

  • 10 years or more

  • 5-10 years

  • 1-5 years

  • Less than one year


 Is marketing communications handled internally? (Yes or No)

Do they have purchasing authority? (Yes or No)

Do you have a communications agency under contract? (Yes or No) 

Is their work by project or retainer? (Yes or No)

Is their primary activity...

  • Development and execution of communications strategy

  • Development and execution of tactical plans

  • Produce and distribute press releases on corporate direction

  • Distribute press releases developed internally

  • Press relations


Social Media Failure? Don't blame the tool. Blame the workman.

Last week a blog post popped up last week on the Ad Contrarian about the "massive failure" of the Pepsi "Refresh" campaign.  The author, Bob Hoffman of the redoubtable Hoffman/Lewis add agency, was claiming this proved that social media didn't  work.

Let's not point out that the advertising effort Pepsi was putting out before they tried social media wasn't helping them gain market share, which is the reason they went to a social media effort.  Because that would just prove that advertising doesn't work, using Bob's logic. Instead, let's take a page out of Bob's own book.

Bob says: 

1. Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behavior, not attitudes.

2. Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, high- yield customers in your category.

3. We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand; we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

Now let's point out that all three of those points are also the effort of a good social media campaign.

Finally, let's point out that Pepsi's campaign did none of those things.

The Refresh Project asked Pepsi users to tell Pepsi what their favorite charities were and then vote for those charities in a contest to get some $20 million donated to those causes.  At the end of the project, Pepsi lost 5 percent of their market share.  How did that happen? All the people whose causes did not get picked got pissed off, that's how.  

When you have a product that is not ABSOLUTELY necessary to the everyday life of your customer, then you have to be careful what you say to them.  The Refresh Project did not tell Pepsi anything about the junk food/drink perception of any current or potential customer.  It did nothing to change attitudes of non-customers, nor how to keep current customers. It didn't target major outlets of soda pop distributors.  It was the result of a bunch of clueless people within Pepsi sitting around a table and making stuff up.

And it was primarily an outbound marketing effort... and social media is ALL about the inbound.

So it wasn't a failure of social media as a means to improve market share. It was the failure of Pepsi to use it properly.

Anyone getting this?


UK imposes new "quality requirements" for the web

My buddy and business partner in the UK, Peter van der Sluijs, finally launched his own social media presence recently (way to be late to the party, Peter) but is making up for it by posting some really interesting stuff.  Specifically is the most recent post on the new regulations imposed by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority enforcing honesty on the web.  It used to be that the ASA only monitored traditional advertising, but an extension of that power has given it the purview of web content as well, including commercial websites and social media.  As Peter put it:

"Reputable businesses would want their advertising  and PR to be ‘legal, decent, truthful and honest’ anyway, though it is possible to be caught out if you make claims you can’t back up.  Common examples are phrases like ‘the world’s leading…‘ or ‘the top…’. If a complaint is made to the ASA (commonly by a competitor) you could be fined and made to amend the page if you can’t provide a basis for the claim."

The use of empty phrases to boost your corporate ego has long been a bugaboo for real PR professionals, but in the UK, at least, they have legal backing to tell clients, "if you can't prove it, you can't say it."

Think of all the companies that claim they can save customers time, money, design respins, etc. but have no real documentation of the claim.  If they do business in the UK, they will no longer be able to copy and past content from competitors.  They are actually going to have to do some real market research and benchmarks to make their claims true.

Makes me want to live in the UK.

Churches are getting it. Are you?

Just sat in a webminar on the use of social media in churches, hosted by TheCity (a division of Zondervan).  I wasn't as impressed by the product as I was by the representatives of churches talking about how they are using social media to reach their "market."  

Churches have a pretty captive base market in the congregations.  A church of 130 regular attenders knows they are going to reach that 130 people, plus potentially another 6-10 people every week that the attenders interact with.  So that church, weekly, has a reach of 1300 people.  That's without social media.  Factor that in and the number goes to 13,000 very easily.  Put 10 churches like that into play and you are covering a small city.  But not all churches are doing that and for good reason.  It takes focus.  That's what the churches involved in the webinar were. Focused.

Each one had a single person, either paid staff or committed volunteer who's only duty was to monitor, measure and manage their social media program.  As a result, their churches were growing, connected and involved in the larger community.

I run across few companies, much less churches, with that kind of focus on reaching their market.  Social media is always something they know they should do, just as soon as they can get around to it.  Same with public relations, market research. lead development... everything needed to make a company grow.  Those efforts are always poorly funded (if funded at all) afterthoughts to the process of product development.  And when it's really crucial, There is no time to do it right.

Churches, like companies, have faith that what they have is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  If someone would just walk through that door, they know they can prove it.  The problem is, no one can find the door in all the noise of our lives.  Don't you think it's time to start pointing people in the right direction?

Google changes the game for marketing amateurs

The recession for PR folks actually began in 2000 when non-marketing professionals figured out that by posting a news release on a wire service, they could show tons of "clips" to their bosses that stated, verbatim, the corporate crap in the releases.  They no longer needed press relations budgets and had become their own "news outlets."  Google did that to the PR profession.

But recently, Google did a big favor for the hacks when they changed their algorithm to cut out hits on content farms.  This, effectively, eliminated the budget benefit of bad-press-releases-on-wire-services strategy.  

I haven't done any press releases for companies for a while because they are really useless exercises, but I got roped into a contract with a company, after getting promises that they wouldn't have me do the same old thing, that forced me into that really bad strategy once again. I noticed very quickly that when the release hit the wire, It showed up only once in Google, under the wire service I used.  Now the service gave me links to where it could be found elsewhere, but those links never showed up on Google.  This is a big change.

There were other hits, but they came from sites that I had personally developed a relationship with; that I had developed a strategy to reach and convince to cover the story.  There were conversations with other influencers that said they would keep an eye on the story as it developed, but unfortunately, for this project, I would not be around to keep the momentum going.  It was up to the client to maintain and develop relationships... and of course they are not, because they don't know how.  Now they are wondering why it isn't working the way it used to.

So we are almost back to the way it was before 2000.  Trying to run public relations on the cheap is a good way to wast money and watch your company die.  Time to rethink your strategies.

Who's in charge? Finale

The announcement of Steve Jobs taking another medical leave is an unfortunate but timely bit of news to put this series wrap up in perspective.  Jobs has established Apple as the leading consumer electronics company in the world.  For all intents and purposes, what Apple does drives the rest of the industry. Apple did not introduce the media player, it just made one that most people could use.  Apple did not introduce music sharing, it just made it legally acceptable.  Apple did not introduce the smart phone, it just made the smart phone practical for the mass market.  Apple did not introduce the tablet computer, it just reintroduced it when the public actually wanted one.  Jobs was at the center of all these decisions. 

Important to note: Jobs is not an engineer.  He has some technical experience but he has stated the college course that was most responsible for the creation of the Mac was a calligraphy class he audited at Reed College, shortly after he had dropped out of the school.  What made him successful was not technical knowledge.  He knew smart engineers that could realize his ideas, but the engineering never interested him.  The user experience did.  This is the man that has driven the direction of the electronics world for most of the past two decades.  But if he showed up today at any of the leading electronics companies for a job, he would not even get in as a janitor.

Yesterday, after establishing my evidence for the lack of vision or even understanding of the consumer market within the leadership of the electronics industry (most of whom are engineers) I said something drastic had to be done.  I repeat my assertion from the first part of the series: Engineers need to be removed from the management of the electronics industry. Specifically:

  1. Any member of management, in fact, that cannot demonstrate a basic understanding of modern communications practices (yes, that includes Twitter) needs to be contained in the engineering division and kept away from the financial and technological marketing decisions.  This includes anyone in finance that continues to defund marketing programs. These people should be replaced with personnel within the company that have this knowledge, or my consultants who can step in immediately. (I can make recommendations.  In fact, I know several in EDA companies that should be recruited)

  2. Any marketer who utters the phrases: "We know who our customers are...," needs to be reassigned.

  3. Any employee who asks: "What is the ROI...?" and cannot answer the same question for the company's product in specifics and on his own job, needs to be shown the door.

  4. Budgets must be immediately reworked.  At least 1 percent of R&D budgets should be reassigned to real market research.  If staffing does not provide for that research, it must be acquired either through personnel or outsourcing.  At least 10 percent of all trade show budgets should be applied to social media budgets, including measurement tools (If you want to know how, my rates are reasonable. If you don't want to work with me I can suggest a lot of good people) At least 10 percent of sales collateral budgets, including that assigned to press releases, should be reassigned to advertising, based on the information developed by the new market research and input from the conversation developed from the social media program.

  5. Everyone in the company with any connection to the decisions of company direction and vision should be required to spend at least 15 minutes a day maintaining a social media presence and conversation, and then providing regular reports to management about what they have found. (there are tools available to manage this process.)

I would make a comment about venture capitalists working in the electronics industry, but they abandoned it long ago so I don't think there is any point in bringing it up

We have a very short window to turn this mess around.  Let's get to work now or call the grave diggers.  There will be no bail-out this time.

Who's in charge? Act 3

In the past two posts I've shown that the consumer electronic industry, with few notable exceptions, has consistently failed to address and meet the need of the buying public; that the semiconductor industry that follows that lead has delivered suspect information regarding market demand; and that the support industries to the semi industry has no solid idea what their value is to their customer, much less express that value to them.  How have we got to to this place?

First off, we have a leadership in place; and a generation of engineers in marketing that were trained by that leadership, whose frame of reference rests in the 1980s markets -- back when electronics was still in the entrepreneurial phase of its life.  In the 1980s, Lockheed Missiles and Space Division was still putting together technical documents with pen, ink and typewriters.  Semiconductor-based products were just the province or technology early adopters (nerds) and were considered generally beyond the ability of less mortals to comprehend, much less work with.

Today, however, there are people in IT departments with high-school equivalency certificates building desktop computers with components they get at Fry's.  Most cell-phones are upgraded every 20 months and some are considered disposable.  Consumer electronics has crossed the chasm and marketing needs to focus on late adopters to expand the market.  But what does the industry market to?  Engineers who think Twitter is stupid.  

No, that's not fair.  There are many engineers that find Twitter to be quite valuable and they buy these products.  No, it is more accurate to say that the market is addressed by companies, run by engineers who think Twitter is stupid.  The people who buy the products that are made by these companies have adopted social media in totality.  More than half of the US population has Facebook account.  These people are talking among themselves about these products, but the engineers in charge of marketing... or at least those engineers in management who are telling marketing that Twitter is stupid... have no idea what is being said.  Instead, they are talking, by email, phone and tradeshow meetings, with their friends who agree that Twitter is stupid about how smart they are.

They are living in a virtual biodome of their own construction that has preserved a 30-year-old paradigm perfectly.  It is a fantasy.

Is Facebook really worth $50 Billion?  They create a product that more than half the country uses and has spawned multiple additional industries with companies also valued in the billions.  The company is creating a lot of wealth and business.  It is a source of optimism and news.  The real question is, what is an EDA company really worth?  They create products used by a very small group of users to create products that 95 percent of the market will send back because it isn't what the customer wants.

So what is the answer to this problem? I really think it comes down to management.  And the electronics/semi industry management is filled with engineers who are making marketing decisions based on 30-year-old paradigms.  These guys are remarkably talented and knowledgeable -- when it comes to making complex technology, but they need guidance from people who are equally remarkable in talent and knowledge about the market.

A few weeks ago when I was considering writing this series, I got a call from a journalism buddy who encouraged me to go for the jugular on this subject.  He was royally PO'ed at a particular industry that does little to no advertising for the simple reason "they say they know their customers and what they want" so advertising doesn't help them.  And yet, this editor says he gets calls from company after company, that uses this same excuse for not supporting an industry publication, and that still expects the magazine to take their calls, send out editors, take meetings and write stories about their cheap little companies.  "If the customers already know everything they need to know about these companies," he wondered.  "Why do I need to write about them?  Why do they still send me their lousy press releases?  Why do they even go to trade shows?"  And why are they still not profitable?

Over the past 20 years, B2B publications have taken a major hit as more companies took this attitude to the point that we almost lost them altogether. What many people may not realize is that these publications found gold in social media and are using it to gather information about companies while, at the same time, creating sources of revenue.  They no longer need top go after these little companies to advertise once or twice a year, because they can sell their content to engineers who DON'T think Twitter is stupid.  They have found new, exciting industries to write about and less and less of those industries reside in the electronics world.

The engineers running the majority of electronics, semiconductor and EDA companies have run the market into the ground.  They have received a brief stay of execution in the current turn around, but don't expect it to last.

To get out of the cycle some drastic changes need to be put in place.  

To be continued.

Who's in charge? Act 2

So yesterday I talked about the failure of the semiconductor industry, as a whole, to accurately anticipate much of the market need.  I identified the causes of that failure as an inadequate funding of the marketing effort as well as a pervasive preference to withhold accurate data from industry analysis that is relied upon to develop new products.  How deep does this go?  I’m going to use the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Industry as an example.  They support the semi industry with the tools they need to design and analyze complex products.

At the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC) industry forecast meeting this month it was pointed out that while semiconductor revenues have increased by double digits in 2010 while EDA is still in single digits (although it had decreased the previous two years).   Aart DeGeus, CEO of Synopsys, repeated an observation he has had many times in the past that EDA is not “getting its fair share” of the value it creates for its customers.

 Well, there are three reasons for that.  It could be any and all of them.

  1. EDA is basing it’s forecasts on information provided by the industry analysis it’s customers provides... which we’ve already seen to be flawed.  So EDA is building products to support semiconductor and systems development that is going the wrong way.  (That may be a stretch.)

  2. EDA has not done sufficient research into market needs to understand the what their customers value and is not communicating how they provide that value.  (That’s getting pretty close.)

  3. Because EDA spends so little on real marketing and relies on rumor and tradition primarily as market research, it is not building products their customers’ value.  (I think we may have a winner.)

Here’s why I think the latter is more accurate.

Like many of his colleagues and competitors, DeGeus likes to trumpet how much money they spend on research and development.  I remember some years where it is as much as 20 percent of revenue for Synopsys.  I also know most of the companies in EDA have been increasing sales staff budgets every year.  I also know that every company in the industry has been cutting its marketing budget by an average of 10 percent every year for the past 10 years.

Now if you look at marketing as a function of sales, and that it’s duty is to crank out press releases, advertising and brochures; and to run trade show operations, well then you probably should look at ways to economize.  But marketing --real marketing-- is the advocate for the customer.  A marketer is supposed to converse with the customer through media, conduct professional surveys, and set up two-way channels of information between the company and the customer to get an accurate picture of what the customer needs before he know he needs it.  It’s a research function first and foremost. And that’s pretty much the way marketing works in every industry... except semiconductors.  And it’s even worse in the EDA world.

If Aart decided to take one percent of his R&D budget and put it back into marketing to do that kind of work, he would quintuple his marketing effort and possibly find out what the next big thing is going to be, not for EDA, but for the electronics industry.  It would make Synopsys the thought leader for his customers’ customers.  He would be able to explain his value clearly in hard numbers.

In fact, forget Synopsys.  Any EDA company, including the smallest startup, could do the same thing if they put some effort into marketing.  That means hiring a real marketer, and not an engineer with an MBA who once took a course on communications.

Instead EDA has marcom admins running Surveymonkey polls that make the statistician in my cringe.  

I recently got the results of a survey that I had participated in a few months ago.  The survey started out with an explanation of what engineering discipline was being explored.  

Right there, if I was an engineer from a different discipline, I would take a pass on the survey, so the only people that would take it are in that discipline.  OK, I can accept that in an effort to winnow out the non-relevant.  the next question was, “How important do you think (this discipline) is?” 

Gee, I wonder what the answer was? Sure enough, the survey result showed that a great majority of the engineers polled thought it was very important.  Whodathot?

The rest of the survey was pretty much the same: leading questions and obvious answers.  

What really caught my eye in the summary was a statement in the summary that estimated the savings a customer can realize from using this company’s technology was $5 million annually.  There was nothing in the survey that asked questions about costs.  There was one about “time savings.”  So I sent the CEO a question about how they arrived at that number.  They extrapolated that number from an assumption of the number of engineers a customer has and what they might be paid.  

This is a practice I’ve seen in every... I mean every... EDA company when I ask how they justify their product.  It’s based on sheer guess work.  they have no idea how much the customer is paying.  They don’t know the size of the engineering teams of the customers.  They don’t know anything about the market, other than the one or two companies they have actually sold product to.

So to answer the question: How deep does this lack of real marketing go?  Right to the core, baby.

To be continued.


How deals are made

Got an email today from a company shilling an upcoming trade show asking a bunch of leading questions designed to get me to agree to come to the show.  The plan didn't work because I didn't answer they way they expected.  But in the process, I think I got some grist for us all to grind on today.  Here are the questions:

Most productive opportunities are generated by connecting with decision-makers

Executive participants have the majority of the decision-making authority

Face-to-face meetings are the best marketing channel to create opportunities

The deal was if answered those questions with "fact" then I should come to their conference.  But I said they were all false.  Here's why:

"Most productive opportunities are generated by connecting with decision-makers." Decision makers rely on influencers to make decisions.  They don't respond to in-person sales pitches but take what they hear and go back to their influencers to see what they think.  If they don't do that, they take information they pick up from the media and discuss it with the influencers.  When a majority of the influencers side in the positive, the decision maker ratifies the decision of the combined network.  If the decision maker goes to a trade show with that information in mind, and seeks out the vendor while there, a deal can be struck.  The vendor may think he is a brilliant sales person because he got to an affirmative decision or, in the least, a meeting, but in fact, the decision to work with the vendor had been made long before the decision maker made contact.  Trade shows are where action is taken on decisions, not where decisions are made.

"Executive participants have the majority of the decision-making authority."  This is fallacious, too.  Executives have the majority of the responsibility for decisions, but most of their decisions are made for them by committees and influencers.  If the decision is wrong, the executive that signs the agreement takes the credit or the blame.  And you can be sure that those that told him to go in that direction will be rewarded accordingly.

"Face-to-face meetings are the best marketing channel to create opportunities."  With the proper preparation that can be true.  A vendor at a trade show has to find the customers whose problems he can solve, but just setting up a booth and waiting for the right customer to come along is an exercise in frustration.  Most companies I talk to that go to trade shows already know who they are going to talk to.  They very rarely find customers just walking up unannounced.  What that means is the vendor has done the homework and already prepared the way with the proper influencers who want to get that decision maker to the vendor's booth on that fateful day.  The axiom should actually be, "Face-to-face meetings are the best marketing channel to finalize opportunities."

The problem is that 90 percent of companies going to trade shows put 90 percent of the marketing money and efforts into attending a specific trade show.  They don't do their homework, they don't spend time trying to identify and connect with influencers and by the time they get to the show they will end up with a bunch of leads that will go nowhere because no one will remember them.

Ask any PR firm in any industry niche when the busiest part of their year is and they will tell you, 4-6 weeks before a major trade show.  That's when the phone starts ringing off the hook.  When that happens, they either laugh out loud and hang up or they are hungry enough to suck whatever is left out of the client's marketing budget to push out a few news releases and set up some useless press meetings.

Successful marketing is an ongoing process, not a once-a-year effort, unless you are selling Christmas trees.


The 12 Entrepreneurs. What have I gotten myself into now?

50184_143431825677984_5976_n  So I just got back from a 2 hour meeting with a handful of on-fire entrepreneurs from Europe who want to shake up the establishment and start building relationships, companies and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  "The 12 Entrepreneurs," as the group calls themselves (12 stars in the EU logo... get it?), come from all over Europe (Austria, France, Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, Romania, Poland, Portugal, Norway, Italy, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Centrope Region (encompassing Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary) and have launched multiple successful companies, but they have grown frustrated with Euro-reticence and Silicon Valley no-it-all-sim (yes I spelled it that way on purpose). They want to get our respective economic engines humming again.

I like these guys so I have volunteered my time to get it started.

The kickoff event will be a small gathering of no more than 50 invitees at the Plug-and-Play Center in Sunnyvale on September 22 starting at 4 p.m.  If working with European companies and investors is interesting to you.  Let me know and I will see about getting you an invitation.  For more info you can find them on Facebook.