Archive for the year 2008

Apr 18

Posted by andrew

Posted in Clients, Marketing, Social Media

How-to: Offering Client News Feeds

Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a semi-controversial blog post today on the “wrong ways” to pitch news (to ReadWriteWeb specifically, but it probably applies to many other publications as well. BlogHerald chimes in here too.) and Mashable has a similar post. One of Marshall’s key insights was regarding how Voce Communications shares their updates with an OPML file. We thought it was a good idea, huddled up, did a little Yahoo! Pipes magic, and here we are: presenting Stage Two Consulting’s client news.
Stage Two feeds - yahoo pipes

Here’s how we approached it, on a client-by-client basis, in no particular order (note that this only includes currently active clients and only those for whom we are doing outreach):

Bug Labs – the company has both a blog and a twitter feed. All blog posts end up in the twitter feed, and other miscellaneous news does as well. We chose to include the twitter feed only (although also considered doing both, and filtering out the duplicates).

DeviceVM – has a blog and issues press releases through PRWeb. We’ve included the blog feed, and also created a filter from PRWeb’s feed to find DeviceVM content.

TuneUp Media and Spleak – have no blog at present, so all news will come via PRWeb filters.

In addition to the PRWeb filters, we created Google News filters for each client. For each given filter, we added a prefix with the company name OR “Press Release”/”News item”, here’s a sample output:

Pipes RSS OutPut

Also, we’re including the Stage Two blog, but leaving out our personal blogs and Twitter feeds for now.

The process was fairly simple to accomplish using Yahoo! Pipes. We’ve never used it before, yet from start to finish took less than 45 minutes. It was pretty darn easy, well done Yahoo!

Apr 16

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Events, Social Media, Stage Two

Panel on Leveraging Social Media for Business

For most of next week you should expect a deluge of events, panels, conferences, unconferences, camps, meetups, mashups, foos, crunches, gigas, and memes all surrounding the Web 2.0 expo.  I’ll be taking part in a few activities, including a panel (hosted by Softech) on how to leverage social media for business (professionals, b2b, etc).  The panel is being moderated by my colleague William Gaultier (from e-Storm), and I’ll be joined by Karl Long (Nokia), Adam Metz (theMIX Agency), and Pankaj Parekh (Zmingo Inc).

The details:

Date:
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Location:
San Rafael Corporate Center
750 Lindaro Street
San Rafael, CA

Agenda
6:30-7:15 Registration and Networking
7:15-7:20 Welcome and Upcoming Meetings
7:20-8:15 Panel Discussion
8:15-8:45 Audience Q&A

Registration Cost
This meeting is free to SofTECH members
Non-members pay $15 to pre-register, or $20 at the door. Register in Advance for Business Social Media- 4/23/2008

Should be an interesting discussion, as we have a variety of experts in the room, and we’ll probably each come at the various topics from different angles.  It’ll likely be my last opportunity to talk about how I don’t use Twitter, since it’s seeming rather inevitable that I’ll end up having to use it for something sooner or later.  Now now, the sky hasn’t fallen, dogs and cats are still not living together.  But twitter is no longer just a neat tool for telling strangers how cool you are while waiting in line to get a sandwich, and I can’t keep my head in the sand forever.

But at least I’ll have tonight, and probably this weekend…  Hope to see you next Wednesday!

Apr 15

Posted by David

Posted in Clients, Marketing

Client Update: Spleak Lands Hearst Deal

While the primary goal of our blog is to talk about marketing, social media, public relations, strategies, outreach, etc, we’ve decided it’s also a good way to give updates when our clients have interesting news to share. This is one of those times.

Spleak is one of our new and interesting clients. They’ve created a new kind of content delivery platform that enables highly interactive and engaging communication and publishing, combining user generated content (UGC) with mainstream media content across instant messaging, social networking, texting, and web-based widgets. Their first product is called CelebSpleak, you can check it out here. Today they announced a strategic partnership with Hearst Digital Media, owners of Seventeen, CosmoGirl, Teen Magazine, and the eSpin network (you can see the press release here).

What’s interesting here is that Spleak has created this cool network that reaches into places that content publishers have a hard time accessing. Hearst has great publications and high quality content, and this partnership with Spleak makes it easy for them to feed that content into AIM, Facebook, MySpace, MSN Messenger, and via SMS. This partnership represents a cool merging of old school publishing with new school technology. And it further serves to prove Spleak’s model of hybrid publishing, where they combine the best of UGC with high quality, professional content.

For some insight about our outreach strategy, we decided rather than to blast out a release to hundreds/thousands of writers, we instead chose to approach a select list of press, bloggers, and technology/media influencers who we felt would be most interested in the story. Some were technology blogs, others were personal “influencer” blogs. We also contacted folks in the media and magazine publishing space – many of them were interested in what this hybrid publishing model means for the future of web and print publishing. Finally, we contacted several newspapers, including some owned by Hearst itself.

Coverage so far this morning includes Kristen Nicole at Mashable, Joanna Pettas from FOLIO, and Ellen Lee at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on SF Gate. We’ll add to the list as more articles appear over the course of the day.

Throughout the day more stories have continued to pop up across the blogosphere.  Anastasia Goodstein at Ypulse mentioned the Spleak / Hearst partnership in her Tuesday April 15th Essentials.  Dave Cohn wrote a great post on his blog DigiDave about Shifts in Journalism, and highlighted Spleak’s partnership as a great example of that shifting.  And Kira Bindrim at Crain’s New York featured Spleak’s announcement in a summary piece about several new items of social media news.  Keep ‘em coming!

 

Apr 10

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

PR: It's not the bullets, it's the poorly aimed guns

Big discussion today about the social media press release. Again. There’s some good reading over at MediaShift which you should check out (warning – it’s long) prior to going too far here. You should also see counterpoints from Duncan Riley and Mathew Ingram. The highlights of the MediaShift article, as a convenience for the lazier readers:

  • Press releases are bad.
  • Social Media Press Releases are good.
  • Rationale is that all the extra info in a SMPR is more likely to get readers what they want.
  • Journalists face a deluge of press releases.

Here’s how we look at it. The above summary is basically wrong (although I don’t have any real problem with the concept or use of SMPR, I just don’t believe they are inherently better than a traditional release). There’s nothing wrong with a press release, just like there’s nothing wrong with having a pile of bullets on your living room floor. The problem really comes when you give lots of people loaded weapons, and then don’t teach them well how to aim them. As a result, bullets fly everywhere and rarely hit their targets. It’s kinda like watching an old episode of the A-Team.

At Stage Two we aim to act extremely deliberately when it comes to press and outreach. For example, Bug Labs has issued exactly one release since inception. Releases are issued for purposeful, strategic reasons, not just because “it’s been two weeks, we need to issue a release!”. I’ve written about this before, but let’s reuse the bullets analogy.

If you are a PR rep (internal or external), instead about thinking of things like release rhythm and remaining in the journalists eyes all the time, pretend you have a single gun with a single clip. You can certainly choose to flip off the safety and pull the trigger at everything that moves, but odds are you aren’t going to hit much, and you’ll probably scare off your target (not to mention annoy the heck out of your neighbors) right around when you run out of ammo. Who’s going to give you a fresh clip with those kinds of results?

I should probably mention I’ve never even held a real gun, I just really think the marketing/ammunition analogy works so well. If press releases were treated as valuable communications tools by those who wielded them, I think we’d see a lot fewer complaints about the format and industry in general. It ain’t the release folks, it’s how they are used.

Apr 07

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing, Social Media

Sorry gang, influencers DO matter

There was a little bit of a brouhaha through the blogosphere last week when a report was published effectively stating that “influencers” don’t have as much clout as some think.  Two highlights:

self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace “friends.”

“This shows that popularity doesn’t always equate to credibility,” said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara. “Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there.”

The last statement is the most important.  If you are in marketing or PR, and you think “influencers” is equivalent to “top bloggers” then I have a tip for you: you’re doing it wrong.  

PR exec Steve Rubel comments that “trust” is a key factor,  while Susan Mernit and Andy Beal both dive in a little into the relationship/reputation side of the analysis.  But John Furrier provokes the right question: What Does Influence Mean?

In my eye, influence is based completely topically.  For example, as a 10-year veteran of consumer electronics product development and marketing, my peers tend to trust my opinions in the gadgety/marketingy space.  I’m always the go-to guy for buying a device, so the last three friends of mine who have purchased plasmas have all bought the one I recommended for them (this Panasonic, or its derivative models).  These same friends put a little less stock into what I say when it comes to which club to go to, or where you can buy the coolest shoes.  My influence in those areas wanes, and this is true for pretty much everyone.

So if your PR/outreach strategy when it comes to influencers is:

  1. Decide to target influencers
  2. Contact the entire TechMeme leaderboard
  3. Expect wonderful results

In reviewing the second step above, again, you are doing it wrong.  ALL influencer outreach programs MUST BE targeted specifically to the product/service you are marketing.  100% of the time, or bust.  I don’t care if you are marketing a Web site or a new kind of soup, there is no one list for all needs.

Apr 02

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Events, Marketing

When Conferences Collide

TechCrunch50 is the sequel to last year’s TC40 conference, which at the time was promoted fairly heavily as a “DEMO 2.0″ event, shifting the cost structure from demo-er to attend-ee. This year, the organizers have planted the event squarely on top of the DEMO conference, thus creating a bit of a conflict. But in any conflict comes some opportunity, which I am sure some folks will figure out between now and then. The other aftereffect is creating sufficient confusion and chaos as to cause people to turn away from having to make any choice.

As marketing consultants, people in our field will have quite the interesting challenge for the next few months. We’ll be asked to advise startups as to whether they should:

  1. Pick TC50
  2. Pick DEMO
  3. Pick *both* (you know someone’s gonna try it!)
  4. Pick neither

Personally, I don’t exactly know right now, but I will say this: I don’t care *who* you are, I don’t like going up against ~110-160 other startups in an attempt to get attention. I hate those odds, which are nowhere near the 1/x that you’d expect them to be. Quite a few of the attendees will likely have pre-existing connections to various media/bloggers in attendance, who will obviously give them the extra bit of attention (nothing wrong with all this, just stating the facts).

I will give this advice right now: if you are a brand-new startup and have NO marketing department and/or PR firm, don’t do either. You’ll have a devil of a time getting anyone’s attention outside of the 6ish minutes you actually get on stage. You’d be better off launching at some quiet time when you can get people to notice you without all the hoopla.

One other major concern I have is the potential for external disruption. This year’s DEMOspring event was somewhat eclipsed by the Yahoo-Microsoft merger talks. So that was 60 companies all getting a fraction of the publicity they had planned on. There are certainly no guarantees in marketing, and the best planned launches never go quite as you’d expect, but can you imagine what would happen if Apple and Facebook teamed up against Google next September 8th? It wouldn’t be pretty.

My best advice at this stage is to think deeply about your plans and needs. Don’t knee-jerk. Don’t follow the wrong trends. If you have a great product, it’ll always be great. How exactly do either of these events benefit your strategic goals? The true costs of either are well higher than the attendance fees, so think a lot before making a final decision. If you are considering either, this is probably one of the more important decisions you’ll make this year. Make it wisely.

Mar 20

Posted by David

Posted in Clients, Events, Marketing, Stage Two

Under The Radar: The Business of Web Apps

Being a PR and Marketing firm, we typically don’t “fly under the radar.” Our goal is to make a lot of noise (at the right time, and in the right way) and get the word out about our clients’ great products and services. However, today we did fly under the radar. By which I mean, we attended Dealmaker Media’s Under The Radar conference in Mountain View, CA. :)

The conference was great – the folks at DM have got it down to a science. Speakers, moderators, and judges showed up on time (unless their cars broke down) and all the presenting companies had interesting ideas to pitch. We had several different reasons for attending:

  • Two of our clients (DeviceVM and kwiry) presented at UTR
  • Jeremy moderated two of the panels (and treated the speakers kindly for the most part)
  • networking, networking, networking

We are big advocates of industry networking, and conferences like this one are great for that purpose. Founders and employees from dozens of different startup and large companies were in attendance, all with something new to pitch. Some are great, some are terrible, but it’s good to know what’s new and who’s doing it. There’s a great opportunity for business development at these events, and also a great chance to play matchmaker and connect two people that really ought to talk to one another. We like to help out where we can.

In addition to the presenters and attendees, there were also a good swath of media folk in attendance. Rafe Needleman from Webware was there, though he had some car trouble on the way down (bummer Rafe, that really sucks.) Kara Swisher from the WSJ (and other pubs) was there, judging for Jeremy’s panel. And Brad Stone from the NY Times was there as well, helping to judge some of the other presenters.

Last night Dealmaker Media threw a little party in Palo Alto at a restaurant called Zibibbo. We snapped a couple of pics while we were there.

Here’s a picture of Sol from DeviceVM, Cliff from DocSyncer, and some of our friends from Dealmaker Media:

img_1423.jpg

Here’s a self portrait of Sol and myself:

img_1422.jpg

And this is a picture of Ron from kwiry, hanging out with the lovely ladies of Dealmaker Media:

img_1421.jpg

Under The Radar was a great conference because it had just the right combination of factors.  There was a variety of interesting startups, a good supply of industry leaders and important members of the media in attendance.  The presentations were generally engaging, and fomented lively discussions with both the judges and the audience.

Events like this are both fun and educationall, and can represent a great opportunity for business networking and business development – especially if you pick the right conference.

Mar 08

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Good Marketing Aint Cheap

There’s a big discussion across numerous tech blogs regarding how to run a startup on the cheap (written by Jason Calacanis).  One of his suggestions (echoed by Fred Wilson and Pat Phelan) has to do with spending money on PR firms:

Really think about if you need that $15,000 a month PR firm. Perhaps you can get a PR consultant to work on 2-3 projects a year for $10-15k each and save 75%. More PR firms are wasted half the year while you build up your product anyway.

While there’s certainly a lot of truth in this statement, I feel the opening part is being too heavily glossed over, the “really think about” part.  Other suggestions, such as “start a blog” or “hire an evangelist” have come up, and while these tactics are certainly important, they are by no means surefire tactics.  In fact, treating a marketing plan so lightly is probably a worse course of action than overpaying for lousy PR.

Most PR firms are overpriced, and per Jason’s point, are being paid even when out of action.  For a startup, this can be a devastating expense.  The smarter thing to do than just writing off PR as a justifiable expense is to spend the money more strategically.  For example, you can work with a PR firm on a fixed-time project to help you with your launch, then re-assess your needs.

At Stage Two we offer strategic planning services where we specifically help give companies a marketing plan that they are able to execute upon. This lets some of our clients hire internally more junior-level marketing folks, and we help give them guidance on how to do things right.  At the end of the day, it’s far more expensive to make easily avoidable mistakes than it is to “overspend” on PR.  The savings you get by bringing on a self-titled expert with no real-world experience will quickly be lost when they mishandle your launch or some other key activity.

No intelligent CEO would staff the engineering department full of junior people who have never built a product before.  Why would you do the same thing with your marketing?  Don’t overspend, but most importantly don’t underspend either!  Make a budget, make a plan, and go do it right.

Feb 25

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Why you should think twice before sending out weak press releases

While I’m definitely not of the mindset that says press releases should be eliminated altogether from modern marketing, I am a believer that some change must occur. My friend and colleague Brian Solis has written numerous times on the topic (here are two great recent examples) of the social media release, which is definitely a concept to watch and nurture. Some companies issue none. Others issue them seemingly constantly. As with all things, the pendulum works better in the middle than at either extreme. But for now I’m going to talk about the over inundation I see too many companies fall too guilty of issuing.

When I was first being exposed to PR firms several years ago, they’d often talk about “creating a regular flow of news” and how important it was to issue releases on a predetermined frequency. At first blush, this makes a ton of sense, as it keeps your company on the radar of the journalists you are targeting. But with any deeper thinking, this strategy should be quickly thrown out the window. It comes with accepting a key flaw in outbound marketing practices: you must start by acknowledging that press releases are noise, and the process of issuing them is creating more noise in a very very noisy place.

As a marketing strategist, I certainly am quick to say press releases are important and remain a valuable tool for communications and outreach. But by accepting the inherent problem of “being noisy” I can craft big picture strategies that make the noise a lot easier to tolerate. And let’s face it, journalists today have such an incredible amount of noise to face that senior writers are putting on Bose Noise-Canceling Headsets just to get through the day (personally I use Shure’s, but that’s a personal preference). The best example I can point to is Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson’s rant against “PR People” last October.

Chris, like many of his peers, was fed up with the noise. But it’s not the general noise of facing press releases and pitches that he and others complain about, it’s the vapid nature of so much of the content. It’s one thing to issue genuine news such as new product releases (or recalls), major technology shifts, executive hirings/firings, etc. It’s another thing to issue a release for any trivial update your company does, just to keep hitting the rhythm of the drum. I’ve seen releases announcing the use of a piece of accounting software, or hiring a new law firm, or the availability of an executive to speak on a given topic. I’m going to pick on a release Epson issued, only because I saw a release of theirs float through last week that was the catalyst for this post (sorry Epson, I like your company, but this is a perfect example). The headline was:

Epson Stylus C120 Chosen for Printing Academy Awards Ceremony Credentials While MovieMate Projects ‘Oscar’s Greatest Moments’

You can read the rest of the release here. While I’m sure Epson is happy to have this designation, I am dismayed that the only way they chose to market the information was via a press release.  I can’t imagine ANY publication that would be interested in this news.  Well, perhaps “Inside the Academy Awards Productions Weekly” but other than that, it’s just noise.  Further, a Google News search seems to have proven me right (it has no results, other than the press release itself).

It’s these abuses of the the system that make the noise unbearable. I truly believe you do your company a huge disservice by issuing these releases, whether you are an internal PR manager or an external agency. Your company’s brand is not enhanced, but is instead tarnished by such activities. Instead of taking mild news (or worse, non-news) and just letting it happen, you attract a negative piece of attention to yourself. And you should stop.

Noise does not make your company look better.  There are better and better noise-blocking tools available to reporters, journalists, and bloggers than ever before.  You can’t just win by turning up the volume, instead, you need to learn to play better music, and it’s not just about the rhythm section.

Feb 11

Posted by David

Posted in Stage Two

Welcome David!

Today we are welcoming a new member to the Stage Two Consulting team. Me.

0.jpg

Hi, my name is David Speiser and today is my first day as a full-time employee at Stage Two. I’m proud to be a full-time marketing strategist. Before coming to Stage Two I worked for DeviceVM, Inc., makers of Splashtop. My position there was Director of Marketing & PR. Prior to that I was at Sticky Inc., a startup in the removable devices space; I did marketing and business development for Sticky. Sticky was acquired by DeviceVM late in 2006.

I had a great time both at Sticky and at DeviceVM, and got to work on amazing technology with some really smart people. While there, I found great pleasure in outreach and writing. But I also realized that I crave a dynamic and changing atmosphere, and I prefer to focus on a variety of different tasks and projects simultaneously.  After some deep thought, I decided I’d take my next career step in the consulting/services space of technology marketing. So when I called Jeremy and asked for his advice on a good firm to go work for, he had just the pick…

Just like when I got married, everyone said: “Don’t Do It.”     Just kidding.  :)

In spite of that advice, I am really glad to be here. I feel good about my carbon impact too. I rode my bike from my house and took Caltrain into San Francisco, so that’s nice. I believe Stage Two is a great fit for me, and I’m excited for this new chapter in my career.

On a more serious note though, it’s fun and exciting to be here and to be part of the team. So far this seems like a group of professionals who all care about technology and the best way to bring cool new products to lots of people. They also happen to be good people, and my friends. I’m glad to be part of the team.

-David

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