Archive for the year 2008

Dec 18

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing, Press

How to Pick a PR Firm

As the Internet and self-publishing tools have flourished and caused massive ripples to the journalism industry, the next wave of the ripple is hitting PR firms.  During this transition, the number of journalists went from few to many.  At the same time, the number of companies & new products needing media coverage went from few to many.  And this has happened quite rapidly, so the industry as a whole has not had a chance to catch up.

It is my opinion that many PR firms will begin to suffer as a result.  The needs of the times are no longer met by “old-school” PR methods, and few firms have enough internal talent to recognize the changing needs.  This is natural and normal of any evolving industry.  Even now, at the end of 2008, few PR firms truly recognize “the bloggers” and most are barely scratching the surface of “social media” as a means of communication (but of course it’s in their pitches to win new business).

What surprises me the most is the number of companies who still hire these firms.  If you are in need of a PR firm, either for the first time or in order to replace an existing one, I’ve put together a handy little comparison chart you can use to help make your decision.

Activity What “bad” firms do… What “good” firms do…
Building target media list Purchase lists from big databases Build lists by researching topics
Finding contact information Purchase lists from big databases Check blogs/sites for preferred contact methods
First engagement w reporters Press release Personalized introduction
Exclusives Use them with “top tier” publications Never use them
Selecting clients Take anyone willing to pay Pick companies whose products/technologies are a good fit
Press release structure Traditional, all-text Incorporates links, and possibly photos/videos
Approach bloggers Top-tier only All tiers
Outreach Mass-blast of content Custom-tailored to the individual, using email, IM, twitter, etc
Report coverage to clients Every single mention of the content, including republished press releases Actual coverage
Follow-up policy Numerous follow-ups, regardless of response Extremely limited follow-ups, based on relationship/comfort level; solicit feedback on interest for future stories
Embargoes Used for everything Used extremely conservatively/focused
Definition of “relationship” Has ever interacted before Has met; joked with; discussed topics; played video games; drank a beer; etc
Specialization None Specialize based on narrow verticals.

Consider these as baseline criteria for picking your next PR firm (or judging the one you have currently).  Of course there are many other aspects that go into any service relationship including budgeting, team/personality fits, area of expertise, etc.  But you should know before you even start the relationship whether, as the ad goes, your salsa is made in New York City… or in San Antonio by folks who know what salsa is supposed to taste like.

Dec 18

Posted by David

Posted in Blogging, Clients, Outreach, Press, Social Media

Client News: 12seconds Launches their Beta Site AND Release an iPhone App

12seconds has some fun news to announce, the kind of news that’s a joy to pitch.   Today they launched a re-design of their website, unveiled their site to the general public in an open Beta, and released an iPhone application.  Apple approved their application and it’s on sale for $0.99 in the iTunes App Store.


iphone app for 12seconds.tv from Sol Lipman on Vimeo.

12seconds first launched in an invite-only alpha this past July.  Since then they’ve had wonderful success with users and gotten solid attention from the press.   Today is shaping up to be no different; a number of publications have covered the announcement, mostly with positive things to say.  We’ll continue to update this post with the news coverage as it occurs throughout the day.

Dec 17

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Outreach

Why Embargoes Will Survive

Mike Arrington wrote a ranting-yet-good blog post today called Death to Embargoes, in which he states:

PR firms are out of control. Today we are taking a radical step towards fighting the chaos. From this point on we will break every embargo we agree to.

I’ve written before on the conundrum the embrago process creates, but considering a portion of our services include PR, I felt it important enough to address the topic.  Mike blames PR flacks, and he’s partially right yet partially wrong to do so.  I’m sure he gets a tremendous number of pitches, the vast majority of which are terrible.  As I’ve said many times, the PR industry itself is in a time of major transition.  The old-school tactics of blasting out releases to purchased media lists barely work at all, and, per Mike’s post, are causing more frustration than they are creating news.

But let’s share the blame a little bit, shall we?  These days, the momentum shift of newsmaking is being the absolute first to break a story.  We’ve heard numerous times that outlets won’t cover a piece of news because of pre-existing coverage, from the same day!  I wrote a blog post on how differing factors of online newsmaking have wreaked havoc on the entire PR process.  The problem is, there’s no “better” way to handle it.

So the fit hits the shan when these two competing interests meet up, which tends to centralize around “real” news (which I’ll define as something worthy of a blog post/article).  If we all stop using embargoes, then we have to tell the media news as it happens, which truly puts writers into a race situation.  Odds are less coverage for the company.  Furthermore, for those of us in the business of building real relationships with journalists, it’s a losing game.

The key problem is the unmovable object vs unstoppable force argument.  Companies need to attract attention to themselves. They need to be newsmakers.  The problem is there’s often a lack of interesting news.  At Stage Two we help our clients determine the stories we feel are newsworthy, and we do this based on our relationships with the media and bloggers we know.  Even then, there are times where we think the interest level will be high, but at the end of the day the pickup is low.  Hey, it happens.

On the flipside, bloggers are faced with the challenge of building traffic.  If you are in the business of breaking news, as sites like TechCrunch are, your brand will live or die based on your ability to have quality news.  So when your competition breaks an embargo or otherwise “scoops” you, you lose credibility, lose traffic, and therefore lose money.

I’ve also heard the argument made that embargoes cause the same story to get written in numerous outlets, and that this is a problem.  I don’t agree.  While us “echo chamber” people follow Techmeme and see the overlap, the majority of readers do not aggregate from all tech news sites.  They find writing styles they like, and while they may subscribe to several blogs, they certainly don’t look at things the way we do.  For the general news consumer, more/wider coverage is good.

So while I still believe in the embargo process, I also applaud Mike for calling the industry out on the problems.  I put the onus of responsibility on bloggers and “PR folk” alike.  Here at Stage Two we’ve had a few embargoes broken, and we take each very seriously. In every case we’ve received an apology and explanation from the outlet who broke it. In some cases entire publications are removed from our targets for a period of time.  Other times, we accept the mistake and move on.  It’s a two-way street.

I don’t think Mike’s solution is perfect, but I do like the fact that it will help “prune out” some of the signal from the noise. On both sides of the fence, that is.

Dec 15

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Blogging, Marketing

How To Write a Corporate Blog

Jeremiah Owyang, of Forrester, put out a couple of good blog posts last week analyzing the general distrust of corporate blogs (which, I guess, includes this one).  Here’s a nice chart of the study:

What’s surprising to me is how much people are surprised by this news. I am in complete agreement with this comment from RWW:

It also depends on the brand of the company itself. Let’s take Walmart as an example. It’s one of the corporate blogs listed above by The Blog Council. It’s fair to say that Walmart isn’t the most loved brand in the U.S., so I’m probably less likely to trust its corporate blog as a result. The style of blogging unfortunately doesn’t do any favors to Walmart either. Would you trust the following product recommendation from Walmart’s Checkout blog?

As you know, I am an Apple fanatic, but this deal even has me looking twice. Our computer buyer has put together this!

It seems like it’s all so easy, but I guess it isn’t. Joe Wilcox from eWeek wrote a blog post that pretty much sums it up in the title: Make Your Corporate Blog Believable. That’s it folks, that’s the entire ball game.  I have no specific tips on how often you should blog, nor the length of a post.  It’s utterly irrelevant if you can’t decide on using your blog as a genuine, authentic voice of your company.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today on “The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World.”  I can summarize it fairly quickly as well (and I don’t have to say either “Web 2.0″ or “social media” to accomplish it): the Internet has made it too hard for you to hide your dirty laundry, so you’d be a lot better off getting out in front of it. Incidentally, that sentence summarizes the output of months of work from most high-priced social media consultants.

So back to the “how-to” part of this post.  Here are some tips we give our clients:

  • Commit.  Regardless of posting frequency, it’s important to view your blog as part of your marathon run, not your sprint.  Except there isn’t even a finish line to the marathon.  The only upside to this is it’s okay to make it a relay race (more later).
  • Focus. You can use your corporate blog for product/company news (new products, technology, staffing, events, etc) – I’d call this a “marketing” blog, since you are really using it as a marketing vehicle.  Another option is to use your blog for thought leadership, getting involved in bigger topics/debates online.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive by any means, but you might want to maintain two separate blogs (or more) depending on the frequency of updates.
  • Interact. Having a blog, but not allowing commenting is just plain ridiculous.  But allowing commenting and not responding to commentors is just as bad.  By no means do you need to engage with every snarky jerk who leaves a nastygram for you, but you should be generally interactive.
  • React.  The blog is not the end-all/be-all of your interactivity online.  If you see others writing about your company, or you are “in the news”, or basically anything important is happening out there, you should address it on your blog.  Remember, this is about enabling two-way discussions between your company and your customers, so the blog is one of the ways you should engage with those discussions.
  • Spark. Don’t just be reactive to content, your blog is a great way to spark conversation.  Maybe you have a new technology you are using/developing.  Maybe there’s a policy debate about something that pertains to your company.  Share your thoughts and opinions on the topic.
  • DON’T sell. I think the Wal-mart example above is apropo of what’s wrong with selling on your blog.  Your company should have enough other vehicles for “selling” your product.  It’s fine to be gung-ho and a believer in what you are doing, but let that come through naturally.  You don’t have to weave “why we’re so awesome” into every conversation you start.

A last thought on all this:  pretend your blog post is the summary of something you talked about at a cocktail party (prior to your fourth appletini, that is).  While at the party, you probably had interesting conversations about something related to your business.  You probably spoke excitedly about some new innovation you are excited about.  Maybe you talked to someone who had a really fascinating perspective on something tangential to your company.

You certainly didn’t whip out a credit card machine.

Dec 11

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Clients

Client News: TuneUp Launches Mac Version

When TuneUp launched their Windows version this past summer, the most asked question was “where’s the Mac version?” (which really just validates our theory on how Apple’s computers are in a lot more people’s hands than traditional market share analysts would have you believe).  The question is now answered, as the company launched their OS X version this morning.  From Gabe, their CEO:

“TuneUp for Mac is a major step toward our goal of delivering the ultimate user experience for all music lovers,” says Gabriel Adiv, CEO and founder of TuneUp. “Based on the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received from the iTunes community, we’re now working hard to expand the program to other major media players.”

I’ve known Gabe and Raza for a long while now, and I’m really excited to see the success of the product.  I’ve worked with a lot of passionate leaders over my years, and its the ones who are building products they personally love that show the most success.  Blake at Sling always pushed us to make sure the Slingbox was the best device for watching TV anyone could buy.  Peter at Bug never misses a moment to share his vision of open, connected devices built by anyone with a little knowhow.  Sol at 12seconds has undying faith in helping connect people to each other, a fifth of a minute at a time.  Gabe eats, sleeps, and breathes music, and sees no obstacles in truly helping millions of iPod owners in improving their music experiences.

Check out TuneUp here – it’s free to try, with a nominal fee to unlock all the features.

Coverage so far (will be updated throughout the day):

Nov 24

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Stage Two

Now Hiring: Extraordinary Marketing Person

While this is supposedly the worst time of the year to try to recruit, we need another rock star in the office who can start getting up to speed on the work we do.  We are not a “typical” firm by any means, as our services cross the lines from product marketing strategy through social media marketing through media and blogger relations. Disclaimer: I’m copy-and-pasting a bit from the last job post we put up…

We are looking to add a Marketing Whiz Kid with at least two years of experience (read: prefer three, but no more than six and please, nobody right out of college unless you want to test your skills as an intern) who has seen the light and wants to get into marketing.  If your background is in PR, Social Media, or any other Marketing-related field and want the chance to put your skills to the test, we’re the right place for you.

Stage Two focuses on Consumer Electronics and Consumer Web marketing.  We believe the lines have completely blurred from product marketing all the way through PR, and these industries are in the midst of massive transition.  With two years under the belt, and a trend of successful, cool clients in our roster, this is a chance to get involved with great projects and learn a lot in the process!  We are industry-insiders, wizened tech masters and pop-culture junkies who know how to maintain a proper work/life balance – whether it’s ending the day early to play Rock Band, or drinking scotch with a client on our rooftop patio.

Qualifications:

  • Able to work within dynamic start-up environment
  • Fast learner and self-starting with impeccable organizational skills
  • Manage multiple client relationships
  • Extremely strong communications skills, especially written
  • Good understanding of consumer technology (video, mobile, etc) with a genuine interest in new trends in tech, media, and culture
  • Strong understanding of the value of using social media to accomplish tangible, realistic objectives (in other words, you don’t just tell a company “you need to be on Twitter” without surrounding that statement in a strategy)
  • Confident and articulate, yet brilliantly creative
  • Brownie points to gamers, bloggers, pop culture geeks (extra bonus points if you can RickRoll JT)

Responsibilities:

  • See above, and…
  • Conceive, develop, and implement influencer-marketing strategies for clients
  • Coordinating media lists and event logistics
  • Monitoring client and industry press
  • Build relationships with key bloggers, industry influencers, press/media, analysts, and potential marketing partners
  • Outreach and traditional PR for new stories, company launches, product launches, etc.
  • Compensation is determined on your level of experience and/or moxie.

Our office is in North Beach, close to several MUNI stops, great restaurants/bars, and fine entertainment establishments. If you’re interested, email us:

  1. a resume
  2. a short bio
  3. your salary requirements
  4. why you think this is a perfect fit for you
  5. your favorite blog? Be honest – we don’t mind that you to can’t wait for the Survivor blog to fire up when the new season starts!

Any emails without all 5 of the above will be ignored, and probably marked as spam (this includes the salary question).  Feel free to let us know if you have any questions. Otherwise, we look forward to hearing from you. If you read nothing else (you won’t get the job, but…) be sure to at least read this and this.

Nov 20

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Debating the Ethics of Employee Voting

Here’s the scenario: your company’s product is nominated for some type of award where the “popular vote” matters (web-based voting, text-ins, etc), in a forum that is “gameable” (there’s no constraint to the quantity of voters, and they can come in through multiple means).  These happen all the time, not just in tech, but in sports, entertainment/media, etc.  So the question is: is it ethically okay to “pump up” the vote through employees, friends, family, etc?

I raise the topic based on a conversation I had with Marshall Kirkpatrick while at Gnomedex 08.  At the event, I “rated” the boxee presentation (they are a S2 client) a 5, but accidentally did so in public.  His (valid) concern was that I was stacking the deck.  My comment was there are several hundred people in the room, and I had the right to be one of the voters.  We had a good debate on the topic, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

An argument in favor of allowing employee/internal voting is that it’s fair and has precedent.  We all watched Obama and McCain vote (presumably for themselves), and the entire political process is about campaigning for votes.  So if the leaders of our country are allowed to shamelessly self-promote, why wouldn’t it be fair for a company to do the same?

Well, what happens when it’s David vs Goliath?  At CES last year there was a text-in voting system.  At the Bug Labs booth we asked visitors to vote for us.  We lost to Motorola, who just happens to have 80,000 employees.  Now I’m not crying foul here, and maybe they deserved it on merit, but a single internal email could’ve completely tipped the scales in an overwhelming manner.

The contrary example right now is Peek using their email network to bolster their campaign for Time magazine’s gadget of the year.  By using their personal connections they were able to stimulate over 3 times the votes of their nearest competitor, the MacBook. Other devices on the list included the iPod Touch, the Flip Mino, and the Wii Fit – nothing against Peek here, but the results clearly demonstrate the impact of getting the personal word out.

Let’s also consider related companies/vendors, such as PR firms, are they crossing the line by trying to gain votes?  What about a “well-connected individual” who may have invested in a firm?  Again, using politics as the example, everyone should be able to do what they wish.  That said, when competition actually matters (in other words, the prize has real, tangible value), is it fair for an influencer to “use” their network?

I’m of the opinion that the decision should be based on the context of the event.  If there’s voting for “the audience” then I think reaching out to a group external to that audience is inappropriate.  In other words, if there’s 100 people in the room, and more than 100 votes come in, it’s not what I would call “fair”.  That said, I think all 100 do get a vote, including company leaders, PR staff, etc.  So in the particular example of Gnomedex, I still believe that me voting was fine (especially since Dave did such a great job), but had I used means such as Twitter or my blog to solicit extra votes, that would’ve been an inappropriate move.

It’s hard to really incent anyone to play fair these days, but I think it’s the right thing to do.  If you are in the position to advise a company on marketing/PR activities, I recommend you try to figure out the “fair” thing, and raise your head high.  You might not win everything, but if you are racing the marathon, not the sprint, there’s no shortcuts to the end.

Nov 18

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Clients

Client News: boxee.tv raises money to expand operations

I first met Avner and the boxee team back in ‘07, when a friend introduced me to them as a “digital living room” play. With over 10 years building those kinds of products for Sling Media and Mediabolic, I was almost immediately uninterested. When I actually got to see a demo of the boxee.tv platform in the Spring of 2008, it only took a few moments for me to realize how good their products were, and how big the opportunity would be. Today they announced they raised $4 million from two of the top VCs I know of (USV/Fred Wilson and Spark/Bijan Sabet), in one of the harshest investment climates we’ve seen in years. Yup, they’re on to something.

Per the boxee blog:

our goals for 2009:

  • grow out of our comfortable closed-alpha cocoon and launch a kick-ass beta
  • build even more functionality and content into boxee while making it easier to navigate
  • listen to user requests, ideas and frustrations (and improve the product accordingly)
  • work with team-xbmc, developers and partners to extend boxee beyond the confines of our limited resources
  • finish the year with ~ 1,000,000 users

Sounds like some good goals! We’re excited to be a part of the boxee team, and if you’ll be at CES 2009 please come by to see them in the fab booth they were given for winning the I-Stage competition! Guess we’re not the only ones who like em…

Coverage so far:

Nov 13

Posted by emily

Posted in Marketing

Client News: Vanno Marries Social Media and Public Opinion

So today’s the day we open up Vanno to the world- and not a moment too soon.  With prolific layoffs and unemployment, there couldn’t be a better time for a site where people can express their dissatisfaction and businesses can defend themselves.

Vanno’s network provides a place where all stakeholders – employees, investors, businessmen, reporters, advocates, citizens- can make their voices heard.  Submit articles from your favorite sustainability blog or write your own anecdotes about the charitable contributions you witnessed from a local business.  Or, use Vanno’s reputation index as a research tool to buy a car from a company that shares your values.

For social media that means something (not to say we don’t flip for a great tweet), we’re glad to see that Vanno is using technology to influence cultural change.  As Nick DiGiacomo- Vanno’s co-founder- once told us, “For better or worse, we live in a corporate world.  We decided to create a place for civil dialogue between all the stake-holders.”  Congratulations Vanno!  We’re excited to see where the world goes with this.

Nov 10

Posted by emily

Posted in Clients

Client News: Spot.us Launched Crowdfunded Journalism

We’re pleased as punch to announce our favorite pro-bono client, spot.us, launched to the public today!  Some words from the founder, David Cohn:

The problem: Revenue.

Journalism is a process not a product, but that process takes time and people who do it professionally need to be compensated.

The Solution: Community Funding.

The process of journalism should be participatory – and perhaps one way it can be made participatory is if the public has the opportunity to commission the journalism they want to see.

How’s it work? Simple.

Something on your mind about your local area (or national, but not yet)?  Maybe you’ve wondered why the streets of your city are in such poor condition while your local taxes are so high.  Or perhaps you recall a massive oil spill in the past year yet see kids playing on the local beaches and aren’t sure how safe it really is.  Whatever your concern may be, spot.us is a place where you can raise an issue, and let the community fund the story.

If the funds arise, then a journalist will (hopefully) take up the plight of the huddled masses, and research then report on their findings.  Spot.us can also help the journalist get their story covered by more outlets. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you can just go check out the site to see how easy it is.

Stage Two has supported David Cohn since he first conceptualized the idea.  He’s funded the idea through raising funds as a non-profit, and we pledged our pro-bono support to help get the word out once the site was ready.  Congrats Dave!

Some of the coverage so far:

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