Archive for the year 2008
We’re here at Under the Radar, for a multitude of reasons. Lowell Goss, our friend, client and the CEO of LOUD3R is presenting in the Mercury room today around 11:15. Ellen McGirt from Fast Company is moderating. Should be a great presentation.
We are also here to help our friends from Dealmaker Media promote their show. We will be twittering on their behalf – you can follow us here: http://twitter.com/UTR08
We also have a Ustream up and running – you can follow it here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/utr08
If you like, you can also watch it below, and chat as well.
Tomorrow, Lowell Goss, CEO of LOUD3R, a new client here at Stage Two, is speaking at the Under the Radar Conference. LOUD3R offers a network of enthusiast-oriented Websites to help millions of people find great information about topics they love. It is difficult to find quality Web content for topics that aren’t mainstream – whether it’s just trying to find good sites, or sifting through junk (spam, splogs and dupes) on RSS feeds.
To solve this problem, LOUD3R is launching a network of sites created by a semantic content engine that gathers, ranks and publishes the best content (news, editorial, photos, video) for a given topic, while filtering out all the junk.
It’s an exciting time for the LOUD3R team as they begin wrapping up beta and prepare to launch the network later this month. We are currently setting up interviews and briefings to learn more about LOUD3R, so if you would like to speak with Lowell for a more in depth look at the powerful tools behind the network, give us a call, email, tweet, comment or whistle – whatever works for you.
I must say, I’m tired of the backlash against the entire PR industry. Are there “bad” PR firms? I don’t know. I’d say there are firms that probably aren’t a good fit for your particular needs. This doesn’t make them “bad”. Do they all “get” the conversations which ensue across the tech blogosphere? Nope. This too, doesn’t make them “bad”. To qualify the statement – a “bad” PR firm is one who doesn’t meet your expectations – end of story. Some PR firms will be perfect for you, some won’t. The best advice I can give is to try to find a good fit.
But there are a few occasions where you won’t need any PR help, maybe this list will help you (warning, heavy sarcasm follows):
- You already know all the press in your industry – if this is the case, then guess what, YOU ARE doing PR! Congrats!
- It’s all about word-of-mouth – hey, YouTube did it, Yelp did it (well, they did in San Francisco, but aren’t really anywhere else), Flickr did it (sorta, they got bought fairly early). I’m sure we can all list another dozen or two companies who’ve been very successful with nothing but word-of-mouth. If you are guaranteed to be one of them, then you do not need PR.
- Growth isn’t really important – maybe you have some amazing new technology but don’t really need to build a user base (for whatever reason). Further, getting in front of the big companies you’d want to get in front of is not a priority. You do not need PR.
- You have a blog – already blogging? Well then, why bother with drawing attention to it? I’m sure the traffic will just show up as long as you keep at it. You may want to use Twitter too, that’ll just seal the deal.
- You have no marketing strategy whatsoever – if you aren’t really planning to market your product or service, you probably shouldn’t pursue PR. It won’t help.
- Your product is inherently viral – this is kind of a rehash of #2 above, but since it comes up so often, I figured I could put it on the list twice. Also, I realized I forgot to mention Facebook in my earlier list of viral successes. Are we up to 20 example yet? If not, keep counting!
- Don’t want to get ripped off – PR firms do tend to be expensive. Then again, so are good programmers. And good IT folks. And good CFOs. And good hosting companies. Probably shouldn’t spend on any of those things either, you might get ripped off.
Okay, I think that’s all my cynical little mind can come up with. Phew, ranting can be frustrating!
The reality check, again, is that there is no one size-fits-all solution. I’ve said this over and over again! Some startups will find success with internal resources only (hopefully you’ll keep reading our blog and find useful posts like these two). Others should get an external firm. Try to think for yourself and ask your advisers for their thoughts, and make a good choice for your own needs.
I will end with this thought: most startups fail. Yes, even here in Silicon Valley, the math says most do fail. If you need help getting the word out, you should figure out how a marketing strategy firm, PR firm, “social media consultant”, or other resource can help you increase your odds of success.
There’s always more startups launching than any of us can possibly keep up with. Some launch quietly, some launch loudly, there’s so many different ways to launch a company. One oft-recommended path is to use a conference. It’s a bit of a risky proposition, since you have to excel beyond just doing what you do well, you also have to stand out from the crowd, all of whom are trying to stand out from each other. When we launch a company, we evaluate these types of issues all the time, and our approach is to pick the best solution for the company’s needs, regardless of the events around them.
As I’ve blogged about before, there are two mega-startup-launch events occurring this fall (which I still hope will clean itself up, though I know it’s unlikely). But what about all those other companies who are ready with their products/services now, and don’t want to duke it out with 114 others? Enter the Under the Radar conferences, put on thrice annually by Dealmaker Media. I love these events, and now spend so much time there I’m lucky enough to be a “regular” moderator (along with my colleagues Rafe Needleman and Ellen McGirt). The events are well-attended by startup teams, accomplished industry experts, VCs, press, bloggers, and some fairly senior people in the tech industry.
The next event is on June 3rd, and features the following startups:
Jacked MovieSet Verismo Networks Vusion Jygy Nesting Vivaty Xumii Comedy.com Curse Hollywood Interactive Group PluggedIn AudioMicro GumGum Keibi Loud3r 33Across Kontagent MediaForge Sometrics CrowdSPRING ffwd Lil’Grams PutPlace Dizzywood Mochi Media Mytopia Pikum! Animoto Aviary Big Stage Overlay.tv
I’ll bet you don’t know most of them – what a great way to come take a look. The format of the show is highly interactive, with audience-wide topic discussions, text-your-vote-for-a-prize, and, the essential of all conferences, valuable hallway time for essential networking. Not convinced yet? How about $100 off your registration. Also, if I hear from the Dealmaker Media team that we send in more than 10 people, I promise to do my infamous impression of “George Lazenby Performing Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back.”
See you on the 3rd!
DeviceVM is one of our valued clients; they make a software product called Splashtop. Splashtop software enables users to browse the web, watch videos, check web-mail, chat with friends, share photos and more, just seconds after turning on their PC. It’s an embedded Linux platform that integrates with the PC BIOS and runs in front of the operating system -you go from cold boot to browsing the web in seconds. DeviceVM works with numerous manufacturers to incorporate Splashtop into computers.
The first manufacturer to incorporate Splashtop software is ASUS, the leading worldwide motherboard, components and notebook manufacturer. On Wednesday morning DeviceVM issued a successful press release announcing that ASUS plans to deploy Splashtop across their entire motherboard portfolio. This is really exciting news for DeviceVM, as the motherboard volume is going to quickly ramp up to more than 1 million boards per month.
The story was picked up and covered by quite a few publications, which was exciting and drove a tremendous amount of traffic to the Splashtop website. Sal at Geek.com wrote a nice article that has been Dugg more than 1000 times. The story also got onto Slashdot; thank you to whoever submitted that. Sol from DeviceVM also blogged about announcement on the excellent in-house Splashtop blog. DeviceVM’s announcement got stories on Engadget, Webware, PC Magazine, Linux Today, Tech World, ZD Net, Tech Gage and others.
This was a great story to tell and a lot of fun to pitch. Thanks to everyone who covered the news, and congratulations to DeviceVM for all their great work. It’s clearly paying off.
If you were visiting last week, you saw a barebones version of the Stage Two website. It wasn’t great, clearly a homeburger approach to things, but it had a client list, bios, services, etc. Today, bupkus. What’s the deal, you (didn’t) ask?
First, we are in a transitional state – our awesome design firm is building a whole new site, and we’ve got fresh new content for it. New and improved, 2.0, it’s just plain betterer than before.
Second, since we’re currently using WordPress, we learned that anytime WordPress encounters a glitch, it reverts the site to its original, plain blue template. Which happened every 37 minutes (or so). This looked even less professional than the crummy Web site we built ourselves.
Third, well, I didn’t have a third. The first two were good enough. In the meanwhile, if you would like to learn more about what we do (marketing strategy, outreach and communications, etc), get in touch anytime.
My good friend, colleague, pseudo-competitor, fellow blogger, and much better photographer Brian Solis put a guest post up on TechCrunch today entitled the Evolution of the Press Release. If you are in marketing, I’d call it a must-read. I’m pretty sure his inspiration for the post is what Elliott refered to as “PitchMeme“, the minor brouhaha which occurred around Gina Trapani’s controversial “bad PR people’s wiki“. I call it controversial because I don’t like the “lumping in” of all PR folks into one big batch – the same way bloggers don’t like to all be looked at the same way (think about it!). The topic’s been pretty well covered already, and my thoughts on how bloggers should address things were in my blog post Friday.
I thought it would be prudent to put up a note on how we recommend our clients write and structure press releases (UPDATED: DON’T FORGET TO NOTICE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT (FROM THE ORIGINAL POST) – for when they are necessary, that is). Some of this is very traditional, some of it’s a bit “two-oh-ish”, and it’s an evolving, living process. When dealing with marketing strategy and outreach in today’s high tech world, it’s important not to get fixated on what worked yesterday as it may no longer be relevant. UPDATED: IF YOU THINK I AM SAYING “DO THIS ALL THE TIME”, PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE (YES, IT TOO WAS IN THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE): Further, there’s no true “one size fits all” approach, you must tweak your strategies to meet your clients’ specific needs. That said, here’s our rough template:
Title – should communicate in a “non-tricky/clever” manner the message. No need to be cute here, just summarize your news in one sentence (which is why I’m so bullish on the importance of positioning).
Subtitle – optional, use if a 2nd sentence helps fill out the details.
Opening paragraph – 2 or 3 sentences that quickly get the info out. Assume your audience won’t read any further than this, so if you can’t figure out how to be interesting this briefly, odds are pretty good you either have (1) too much story, or (2) not enough story. Both are bad, consider either making multiple releases or not doing it at all, respectively.
Okay, this is your time to give some background, help flush out the rest of the story. Stats, market size, demographics, details details details all belong here. I recommend being to the point, again, keeping away from the “cute” factor. 4 sentences max, and if you have a lot of details, consider making a bulleted list instead of a paragraph.
The simplest reason to have a quote is this: it will inevitably get copied-and-pasted into an article somewhere, and it saves the journalist from having to email you for a quote for their article. Your quote should sound like a human being said it, and not be jargony robot-English. Also, there’s no reason to deviate from the “standard quote” format of:
“I said something cool,” said FIRSTNAME LASTNAME, the TITLE of COMPANY. “I’m excited about that cool thing I said especially because it’s so cool.”
Focus on the business implications, and/or partnership details
This is a good time to explain why the story matters SOOO much. Either there’s a huge opportunity for the company to expand, or possibly a big deal with a big partner/customer is being announced (if so, make sure you’ve referenced this earlier!). Think about the business/industry implications of your announcement, and make them clearly comprehensible.
[optional] partner/3rd party Quote
IF you are working with a partner, give them their quote here. If not, but you have a *very well known* fan of the company, they can make a quote. It’s absolutely not necessary otherwise, and should fit very naturally – if not, don’t include something just to fill in space (shorter press releases are always better than longer ones).
This is a good place to wrap it up, either by including some broad background info on the company (such as a boiler plate) or some content you generically use to describe the company/service/product/market. It’s okay to reuse this content, it’s helping out those who may be new to hearing about you.
In “social media PR” style, we’ve begun including a bulleted list of relevant links. These links could include a company home page, blog, product details/specs/pictures, partner home page, useful resource, Twitter URL, RSS feeds, or anything else. In my opinion this section should have every link a journalist would want to be able to find other details that complement your release.
Phone number and email is a must-include, and I’m generally recommending having IM information here as well. If you use Twitter or other means of near-real-time communication, you should have this included as well.
That’s it for the Stage Two-styled New-Meets-Old-Media Press Release (as of May 11, 2008 – who knows what this will look like a month from now!). Hope this is helpful, and I welcome/encourage feedback via comments.
UPDATED: I’ve added two very large callouts in the beginning of this blog post. This is because I want to make sure that anyone who is just ’scanning’ the post instead of reading it fully notices that I am not advocating a strategy of “always write press releases, and always make them the exact same.” Sorry about the big, bold text, it felt necessary.
Over the past few years as “the blogosphere” has grown and evolved, we’ve seen many bloggers move from “desperate to get attention” to “so ridiculously swamped they can’t take pitches anymore”. Tom Foremski and Scoble both tried a Facebook-only pitch mode for a while (neither lasted), Marshall Kirkpatrick recommends RSS pitches (read Matt Craven’s thoughts and our own response here) and Mashable has their “what not to do” list as well. This is all part of dealing with new media technologies and PR, which are generally at inherent conflicts with each other.
Until extremely recently, PR was mostly about using lists of press and blasting them with updates. Relationships were always key, but the system of Draft Release, Create Embargo, Blast tended to work pretty well. Today, it’s clearly not that easy. There is so much noise out there it’s almost impossible to distinguish yourself, even when you have interesting news (hence my post on positioning). Relationships are more important than ever, and doing The Blast is more likely to backfire than it is to independently generate widespread awareness. But the blame for all this should not just be aimed at the PR firms, I believe bloggers and journalists have some responsibility for the quagmire as well.
Most blogs have some form of “contact us” or “send us news” page or email address readily available. The reality is those emails tend to get put into the lowest priority bins, if not ignored altogether. And that’s hardly fair. In my opinion a news organization, be it an individual blogger or a mega publication, has the duty to receive incoming pitches from anyone. But they also retain the right on their preference of the nature, content, and style of those pitches.
In addition to some of the examples above, I believe Stowe Boyd’s request for “being twitpitched” is an excellent way to step up to the table. He labeled the post “how to pitch me” on his blog, and as a result, anyone who wants to pitch him now has a simple and straightforward mechanism to do so. In order to practice what I’m preaching, on my LIVEdigitally blog I just wrote a “How To Pitch Us” page, and added it to my primary navigation links. I hope to see many other bloggers follow this type of a path, as its so easy to complain about the noise yet IMHO equally easy to do something about it.
Which do you prefer:
- “A series of modular electronics components that use Linux and open source technology to create personalized gadgets”
- “Hardware Mashups” or “The Long Tail of Gadgets” or “DIY Consumer Electronics”
All are accurate terms to describe Bug Labs‘ programmable consumer electronics platform, but I believe it’s pretty safe to say the second list is a lot more memorable. When I’m asked about what I think the most important thing in marketing is, I unquestionably answer “positioning.” Not social media, not blogger PR, not anything but positioning. If your company cannot easily and accurately position itself to your target audience, it doesn’t matter how good a job you do with the rest of your marketing.
At the Web 2.0 Expo one of my favorite demonstrations was the new social media plugin from Yoono (now in beta). Their booth had a prominent slogan: “Take Control of Your Digital Life.” I talked with one of the booth staff and expressed to her my deep concerns over such positioning (she told me it wasn’t necessarily final). While the slogan is technically accurate for the service they provide, it is not the right messaging for the company. Most importantly here is understanding whether or not the average audience is going to feel they are not in control of their digital life. It’s one thing to be a Robert Scoble and have a handful of online conversation points, it’s another to be the typical teen, 20something, or 30something who is managing no more than 1 or 2 depots online. In other words, they are positioning around a problem that their target audience does not have. Not good.
Yesterday I heard a radio show where the announcers mentioned one of their sponsors, Pharmaca. My first issue here is the company’s name, as it could easily be misspelled (pharmica, farmica, etc), and if you have that challenge, you need to make sure it’s addressed constantly. Every time it’s spoken it should be spelled out properly, and yes, that’s every time. Next up, the company’s tagline was “an integrative pharmacy” – even the show host couldn’t say it easily. Further, it’s a near-meaningless term in my eyes. Walgreen’s seems pretty integrative (note that I’m interpreting “integrative” to mean “integrates many things”), they even sell toys, digital cameras and milk. With a little research it turns out that Pharmaca’s goal “is to help you achieve optimum health, vitality and wellness, whether through traditional prescription services, complementary and natural remedies, or a personalized blend of both.” How about “combining the ideals of natural, holistic practices with the benefits of science and traditional prescriptions”? Probably not perfect, but I think it’s a lot easier to understand and (forgive the pun) digests a little more naturally.
I’ll be writing a lot more about positioning, as I think it’s so vital to understand. Put yourself in the “brand new customer’s” shoes, not your own, and really think about how you’d react to your phrasing. Does it appeal to your problems and needs, or does it get a little confusing? Is it clearly demonstrating the benefits of the product/service, or obfuscating them in some way? If you are having trouble getting your head out of your own world (it’s hard!), get some trusted friends or colleagues and throw your slogan their way (unbiased please). Getting it right isn’t easy, but is worth every marketing penny you’ve got in the long run.
While wandering the Web 2.0 Expo show floor yesterday I couldn’t help but notice a chunk of startups trying to pitch ideas and business that seemed awfully familiar. In some cases they were rehashing older ideas trying to pump them back to life with a new fresh look. In others, the companies were tackling areas that are overly saturated with competition today. As I talked to the various booth reps, I was surprised by many of the pitches, as many of them seemed to base their entire “differentiator” story by aspects of their business which are simply insufficient to truly differentiate.
It’s one thing to have a massive amount of differentiation against your competition, and to heavily play up that feature/tech/etc. For example Google grew out of literally nowhere thanks to serving significantly better search results than other offerings at the time. Notice I said “significantly better,” not just “better”. Further, timing was important – Google came to market against products whose offerings were quite poor, so the “significantly better” results were highly noticeable.
Launching a “better than Google” company today, on the other hand, is a much larger challenge (despite numerous attempts). Not only are people NOT dissatisfied with Google’s results, their products now span well beyond just search, and are tightly integrated with a huge amount of Internet users’ lives and services. I’d say Google is more intertwined with the Internet today than Microsoft ever was with integrated Internet Explorer and other products which prompted all the lawsuits. Competing with the big G is going to take a lot more work than even “significantly better” search results would provide.
Another topic that seems to cause confusion in regards to differentiating companies is user interface (UI). I’ve heard countless companies show demos and talk about how they are great because their UI is so amazing and easy to use. One company’s rep even stated that the thing that will make them “stand out from the rest” is their signup process. Baloney. This is a very dangerous ground to play in, because it’s lacking the important tactical element of understanding when UI actually matters.
First, it’s my position that to use UI in this manner requires existing products to have bad UIs (not just average or mediocre, but bad). Second, existing UIs must be bad enough that the consumers who use these products are vocally unhappy and can identify statements such as “it’s too hard to use”. Third, the “better” UI must be easy to absorb instantly – in other words a new potential customer should see your screenshot/web site/gadget interface and instantly see how easy it is to use. Fourth, and of no lesser importance, better UI doesn’t mean “prettier” UI. Fifth, it’s hard to use UI to compete against massively entrenched players, though if its a bunch of startups fighting for attention, having a better UI is good.
TiVo beat ReplayTV with a stick when the two launched, outselling them at over 10:1 ratio from the getgo (although much of this was also due to pricing models, with the ReplayTV units coming in almost double the price of a TiVo, albeit with no monthly service fee). My precious Slingbox sent Sony’s LocationFreeTV packing time and time again. In both cases the products at hand were in new categories with no existing comparative products. Today, however, competing with either is much much harder, and good UI alone isn’t enough to cut it. While my examples here are both physical products, it’s fairly easy to see how they apply to Web services and sites as well.
Whether it’s UI or features, pricing or compatibility, it’s extremely important to understand how you stack up against the crowd. The key challenge startups and even large companies with new products face is to figure out the how and what of demonstrating competitive advantage. Building great products is only the starting point. Understanding how your potential customers will perceive your products is at least as important, and proper timing and positioning is just plain essential.
In a pseudo-related note – please come check out the unconference today!