May 16

Posted by David

Posted in Clients

Client News: Splashtop coming to ALL ASUS motherboards

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 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.

May 13

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Stage Two

Where'd Our Site Go?

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.

May 11

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing, Outreach, Press, Social Media

Our Recommended Press Release Structure

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 controversialbad 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.

Supporting Details
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.

Useful Links
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.

Contact Info
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.

May 09

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Blogging, Outreach, Press

Hey bloggers, tell us how to pitch you!

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.

May 07

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Most Important Thing in Marketing? Positioning (part 1)

Which do you prefer:

  1. “A series of modular electronics components that use Linux and open source technology to create personalized gadgets”
  2. “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.

Apr 24

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Events, Marketing

The Importance of Understanding Your Competitive Advantages

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!

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:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

San Rafael Corporate Center
750 Lindaro Street
San Rafael, CA

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.

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