PR 101: “D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

 

Sometimes, we make life so complex, we forget how simple it can actually be.

At Baker Communications, we’re in the business of helping our clients introduce themselves to the world: journalists, analysts, business partners, bloggers, investors and customers. Occasionally, we hear from clients things like “Why is that reporter so in love with [insert name of competitor here]? We need to send more press releases!”

Our answer is usually something to the effect that more is not better. It’s about quality – of your products and of your communication about those products.

This was driven home by desktop virtualization analyst, blogger and all-around expert Brian Madden. Brian and I have had numerous conversations over the years about various virtualization clients. Most recently, he sent me the following email, which is positively brilliant in its simplicity (not to mention a chapter out of PR 101):

***

“What we ask of you (and every vendor) is to keep us up to date with what you’re doing. Send us news, announcements, thoughts, new features, press releases, etc. (As a favor, I ask that you actually put the text of what you’re sending in the body of an email or as an attachment since I spend some much time on airplanes with no Internet connection and I spend a lot of time reading stuff from my Blackberry.)

But beyond that, I’ll be totally blunt with you (with the hopes that this can help you provide the info that we want and to connect in the way that we want):

We get a lot of email from vendors and PR folks wanting to “connect” or “update” us.  Seriously – at least ten of these types of emails per day. If we actually took all those meetings were would spend 100% of our time talking to vendors. So we have to prioritize and pick-and-choose.

So what you can do to help us is to send us the information that you want to discuss in the email itself. Send us the Powerpoints that you’d like to go through. Send us a few bullet points in the body of an email that can convince me on my Blackberry that I need to talk to you. Because what happens usually is we take the call from the vendor and it’s about 90% worthless. Either them going through a deck that I could have skimmed in 5 minutes or it’s them asking me for advice about their product.  So instead of sending emails that say “we should catch up, when do you have time?”, send us an email that says, “Here is x, y, and z that is cool about us, here’s our briefing deck, we would like to talk to you specifically about a and b.”

So I think that’s a quick snapshot. I guess the final thing is to share this info with all your PR friends. I’m sure they’re pitching busy folks too, and man, if I had a nickel for every “we should talk when you get a chance email,” then I wouldn’t have to blog anymore.

***

For the record: at BakerCG, we endeavor to go to people like Brian with useful, timely information that is germane to their area of interest. That said, every reporter, blogger and analyst has his or her own preferences of what they want and need from PR people. The fact that Brian was able to voice it so succinctly will only benefit all parties concerned: him, the PR agency and the client. We just need to listen.

Facebook: The Return of the Walled Garden?

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden
.
- Joni Mitchell

Is AOL still in business? Does anyone still use it?

Once upon a time in the early but heady, halcyon dot.com bubble days, AOL was taking over the online world with its “walled garden” approach. That was where you logged onto AOL and all the content you needed was right there – news, instant message, chat rooms – everything. You would never have to venture out onto the big, bad, wild and unruly World Wide Web.

That lasted ten minutes. It was fairly obvious that people wanted access to all that evil content and so AOL was forced to provide a browser as a possible way for its customers to tiptoe juuuust outside the walls (but not too far, please.)

They went out and never came back. The “walled garden” concept died.

Or did it?

It seems that Facebook is doing exactly the opposite by slowly building a walled garden for its nine zillion users. People can play games, watch videos, get news, buy stuff – all without leaving the comfortably tepid bathwater that is Facebook. Each day, more people spend (waste?) more time doing more things while on Facebook.

Is this good or bad? Will Facebook attempt to close off its users somehow? Could it? Does it matter? Do we care?

And do you think that Steve Case and Gerald Levin are thinking “Damn. DAMN!”?

Taking Your Business to Your Customers

When I was a kid, we had milk delivered to our front door. With a few scattered exceptions here and there, those days are long gone in the United States. The cost, for the most part, is prohibitive (i.e. customers will not pay the premium for home delivery.)

An announcement today from one of our clients, however, made me think that the milk delivery model is exactly the right model for companies doing business on the Internet.

How so?

Our WorkLight client announced that it built a widget for a Best Western hotel in Berlin that delivers information, schedules and discounts to people who use it. (For those of you not familiar – a widget is a “mini” application that runs on your desktop or smartphone or wherever.)

This particular widget can run on your desktop, within Facebook, iGoogle and My Yahoo!, to name a few. That means that this Best Western is coming to where its customers are, as opposed to making those customers come to their web site.

The World Wide Web is so 10 years ago. Today, people want information and the ability to conduct business where they are now. That means social media sites, on their iPhones and Android phones and soon, on their iPad.

WorkLight’s technology makes it possible for companies to quickly and securely reach customers on the customers’ terms. We think it’s pretty exciting stuff. So much so that I am going to toast today’s announcement with a tall, cold glass of milk (because I am just that crazy.)

Print Journalism: Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss?

I received the latest copy of BusinessWeek in the mail today. (Yes, I continue to cling to print like grim death.)

When I first pulled it out of the mailbox, I thought “Wow! That’s quite the cover story for Avaya.” About a second later, I realized it was a “cover wrap” advertisement. (You can click on the image to open in a new window, then click again, to see how BusinessWeek covers itself, circled by me in green.)

These types of ads are not new. They have been around for years on trade publications. But this one was a bit startling in how misleading it was, if only for a second. I guess that’s the point.

Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek from McGraw-Hill a few months ago. I am glad that it is still in print. But is this what it takes for print to survive in these troubled times for traditional media?

Maybe I am just old fashioned, to wit:

A.) Get over it. This type of advertising is no biggie.

or

B.) Get over it. Print is dead.

Do we need to get over the old ways of journalism? What do you think?

Free(dom’s) Just Another Word…

Free price tag

Remember when we used to pay for stuff?

• AOL was $25.00 a month for 14.4kbps service;

• Mobile phones cost $1,000, were the size of shoe boxes and calls cost a dollar a minute;

• Regular phone service was $50 a month;

• Computer software was a small fortune;

• Newspapers were $1.00 a copy and people, you know, BOUGHT them.

Now, it’s all free. Nobody pays for any of this stuff any more (or pays practically nothing for it.)

And Google seems to be behind a lot of it. From phone calls, to applications to video, Google is giving all of this away for free.

Today, Google announced it was giving away free WiFi for the holidays. Yet through it all, the company seems to be printing money, even in the midst of a recession.

I guess this is all good for us consumers. But taken to the Nth degree, where do we end up?

Nobody pays anything to anyone – except Google.

Want a hamburger? Stop at McGoogle’s for a free meal while you watch banner ads on your table/display unit.

Need a new car? No prob. The new Google Malibu is free for the taking, but you have to listen to a non-stop stream of ads while you drive.

Growing family? Time for that new Google house, totally free, with walls made out of LCD displays so you can watch text ads 24/7.

I know – a discussion about Google’s ubiquity and dominance is so 2008. We had the same discussion about IBM in the ’70s and Microsoft in the 90s.

We are all keenly aware that some snot-nosed dweeb is right now inventing the thing that will topple Google in a few months. Let’s just hope it’s not a Steve Jobs-spawn, who will no doubt swing the other way and charge us a premium for the “designer” Internet.

Bloggers Disclosing Payment: What Does that Mean?

Money bag

The FTC’s ruling that bloggers have to disclose if they were paid or given free product in any reviews is a good idea – in principle.

However, in the technology (and many other) industries, it is common practice to send a reviewer a copy of your company’s software or latest gadget.  So, if I offer a review copy of one of my client’s software products to Timmy the Blogger, is he obligated to disclose that we gave him that copy for review? It would seem so.

There is never any quid pro quo (at least not in my 15+ years of PR) that says “If I give this to you, you will only say good things about it.”

In fact, I am sure that past clients would have loved that, given the less-than-ready-for-prime-time nature of some of the products we submitted for review. (This, of course, does not apply to any current or recent clients…)

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. For the tech industry, it may not amount to much of anything. It will probably mean that we will see positive and negative reviews of technology products, and all of them will have a generic disclaimer that says “The company that makes this [software, MP3 player, camera, whatever] gave it to me to review.” People will end up ignoring these disclaimers, just like they ignore other warnings, such as “Don’t stand on the top step of the ladder” or “Stop texting your boyfriend while driving 80 mph through a school zone.”

Life goes on.

What if Twitter dies…

twitter

… and I barely notice. Does that make me a bad PR person?

Twitter went down today for a few hours, the apparent victim of a hacker attack.

Here’s the thing: It sort of went right by me. I am not sure if I should be proud of that fact or ashamed. I know – there are billions of people in the world who live out entire lives without even so much as a whisper of a notion as to what Twitter is.

But I am in high-tech public relations for a living. It seems like I should be following thousands of people and be followed by the same. I should be checking my Twitter stream in real-time, all the time, 24/7. I should know when the top bloggers go to the bathroom and how many times Ashton and Demi did it today.

But none of those things apply to me. Sure, I really enjoy and appreciate most of the people I follow. Their tweets are useful, entertaining, newsworthy.

But I can live without them, whereas I would wither and die without my daily print versions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and without great tech news sites like CNET, Technologizer and Engadget.

Am I obsolete? Or just too busy to live and die with Twitter?

Summer Client Fun

Summer pool

I think I have made this abundantly clear on this blog, but I’ll say it again: We have great clients.

Why are they great? Any number of reasons.

First, they make great software. I mean stuff that is genuinely, truly useful.

For example: Likewise Software makes open source software that helps companies integrate different operating systems into a Windows Active Directory system. Important and useful stuff.

Yesterday, Open-Xchange made an announcement that will revolutionize how businesses use social networks.

Canonical makes Ubuntu, unquestionably that fastest-growing and most important Linux distribution in the world.

LogMeIn makes remote access, support and connectivity software. It allows you to do anything, on any of your computers, from anywhere in the world. It is the very definition of a “killer app.”

But as smart as these and our other clients are, they also know how to have fun. Earlier this year, Likewise Software went into the t-shirt business in an effort to end the operating system wars. You can buy yours here. (All proceeds go to charity.)

Right now, LogMeIn is giving away a bunch of cool stuff – iPhones, iPods, computers, t-shirts, and, a grand prize of the ultimate home office worth $5,000. If you’ve never experienced the absolute peace-of-mind and productivity of always having access to your office and home computers, now is a great time to try out LogMeIn. There is even a video contest coming soon, so put on your thinking caps. (Sorry -  wedding videos, your kid’s birthday party and Paris Hilton are excluded.)

I know what you’re thinking: “Could these guys suck up to their clients any more?”

My response: We’ll try.

Look, Mom – We’re almost famous!

Print

PRSourceCode is an online service for the public relations industry. Every year, they poll technology journalists, asking them “Who is your most favorite PR firm?”

Now, one would think that would be like asking Sarah Palin “Who is your favorite political reporter at The Washington Post?“, given the sometimes… shall we say… uneasy relationship between journalists and PR people.

Apparently, however, we’re not all bad in the eyes of the fourth estate. It appears that some of us PR folks actually want to serve our clients AND help journalists get timely information that is useful to their readership.

And so PRSourceCode has named the the top PR firms as viewed by tech reporters.

Baker Communications Group was a runner-up in the small agency category. That means we’re among the Top 10 small agencies nationwide.  Since we didn’t know we were even in contention for anything, I guess that’s pretty good. Now that we know, maybe next year we’ll eat some of our own dog food and lobby all our technology reporter friends by plying them with beers and hot wings at trade shows. You know – the same way Hollywood studios do it for the Oscars.

So thanks to the reporters who gave us a nod and thanks to PRSourceCode for asking them.

Thanks also to our clients, who make it easy and fun to do good work, simply because they are great companies with cool technology and products.

And most important – thanks to our wives, husbands and mothers because, well, that’s what people say at awards shows.

The Plaid Nation Tour: A “Rolling Demonstration of Creativity and Innovation…”

… or an elaborate excuse to get the wives’ boot heels off their necks?

My friend and colleague of 25 years, Darryl Ohrt, is the head honcho over at Plaid - a crazy-cool and very creative design agency. He is about to embark on his annual Plaid Nation Tour, which purports to celebrate the power of social media and marketing.

If you get within 50 feet of Darryl, you’ll find him nattering on about social media – Twitter this and Facebook that – to the point where you want to jam an ice pick in your ear just to make it stop.

Plaid Nation 09There are two things, however, you should know about Darryl and the band of delinquents that roll with him:

1. They are really, really good at what they do. Some of the most creative people in the design business.

2. They are social cripples. (Ironic, no?) These are the guys that ran the A/V club in high school and played Dungeons & Dragons on Friday night instead of going to the kegger after the football game.

Now, they want to get the f–k out of the house. So, I imagine this is how the conversation between Darryl and his wife went:

Darryl: Honey, me and the guys are going to take a two week road trip. We’re going to eat a lot of crappy food, drink some beers and listen to bands that nine people in the world have heard of.

Wife: Great idea. Two weeks should be just enough time for me to hire the best divorce lawyer on the planet. See you when you get back.

So, Darryl being the creative sort (see above), conjures up this half-assed idea where he claims it is for business. He cons sponsors including Ford to provide a car and respectable hotels to put them up for the night and Sprint to provide wireless. Then, he wires up the Ford Flex with cameras and computers and video feeds and hits the road, claiming it is all in the name of “demonstrating creativity and innovation.”

Darryl’s wife is no dummy. If she wants to continue wearing Prada and Jimmy Choo, she’s got to let him go.

And so they will, beginning Monday, July 20 in Detroit. They will cut through the industrial heartland of this great nation, ending up in New Orleans, where they will no doubt get swindled by some tranny hooker.

Me? I’d rather fake my own death and then vacation in Muncie than spend 15 minutes in a minivan with these guys, but then again, I was not invited.

The best part is, we can all follow the whole meshugenah mess, pork rinds, donuts, beer farts and all, right here.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.