Archive for 'Marketing'

Jan 26

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Blogging, Marketing, Outreach

Are Bloggers Underutilizing PR People?

I’ve read more blog posts and tweets about how “all” PR is bad, full of spammers and people likely to go out and club the occasional baby seal. I wish I could say this was super-far from the truth, but from the stories I hear, along with the pitches I get for LIVEdigitally, it seems like a lot of these complaints are justifiable.  But, just as much as generalizations are over-used against PR people, I’ve noticed an equally, if not more, disturbing trend from bloggers and social media users in general.  It seems like there’s a trend toward less due diligence than in years past, in fact there’s often no fact-checking or other research done prior to a blog post or a tweet.

As much as PR people are here to pass news along to content creators, another reason for the existence of the trade is to support the news making/breaking process.  PR people are here to answer questions, support fact checking processes, provide access to executives for interviews, etc.  And just as guilty as they may be for deluging underinterested bloggers in uninteresting news, they are not being used as a good resource for many a blogger.

Our firm prides itself on its relationships and reputation (amongst other things).  We are well-known not to spam, and take a lot of effort to try to self-select which media outlets would be interested in our clients.  But even with that degree of credibility, I still feel there is a missing element to modern news-making. Here are the three most disturbing observations I have:

  1. An utter lack of inbound requests from bloggers to companies/PR firms for anything other than review units.  No asking for comments, interviews etc.  Recently one of our clients had a really great wave of blog posts get written, without a single one of those bloggers contacting us to check details of the story or get an extra quote from the CEO.
  2. A tendency to publish/tweet first, wait for corrections and more content later.  There’s been a lot of posts written with a goal to be “first” (or near-first) on a topic, without getting into details.  I’ve seen tweets and posts happen that make wild assumptions or accusations, and only see fixes or retractions much later.  There is unquestionably a stronger emphasis on breaking any news than there is an emphasis on reporting accurate stories.
  3. A likelihood to use other bloggers as “sources” without any fact-checking.  This one pretty much goes without saying.  It is as if an article on TechCrunch or Engadget is simply “factual” just because it’s there (incidentally, I picked those blogs solely due to their size, not because they have done anything wrong and I am not calling them out for any wrongdoings).

I find these trends upsetting in many ways because of the relationships we have.  When a rumor (true or not) begins spreading across tech blogs, we would expect to get numerous inbound requests for information.  We are accessible via IM, email, phone, and Twitter, and virtually anyone we pitch has all of our contact information.  Yet we hear virtually nothing, and are more likely to hear inquiries from those who don’t know us.

So what’s going wrong?  I asked a few of my blogger friends their opinions, here’s some of what I heard (note the context here was me sending them the above statements, so this doesn’t necessarily reflect how they blog as individuals!):

Joshua Topolsky (Editor-in-Chief, Engadget): The news flow being what it is, it can be hard to wait on a quote from a CEO, and more often than not, the quotes they want to give us are generally as safe as possible. Companies often deflect or deny even when there’s a real story at play, so it’s a tight spot to be in, we’re breaking news in new ways, and companies are combating having their secrets spilled, surprises ruined, or plans misunderstood.  Overall though, I see a lot of writers making the mistake of shooting first (with their eyes closed), not bothering to ask questions later, and never owning up to anything.

Marshall Kirkpatrick (Lead Blogger, ReadWriteWeb): Right now there’s little incentive in terms of page views to do any but the most high quality research.  Cursory, matter of course, due diligence doesn’t get a whole lot of reward.   I’ve done it in the past and try to now when I can, but readers rarely seem to care.  Well earned scoops do get rewarded, but few bloggers have the chops or work priorities to focus on scoring those.

Louis Gray (independent blogger): If a story is “interesting”, but not a game changer, I tend to typically just ask for a login so I can check it out and do screenshots. On longer-lead stories, I do trade e-mails with the developer, but not if I expect they are “blasting” the announcement to a ton of folks, because then the effort seems wasted. I also tend to send the URL of the post to the contact after it’s up to ask them to make sure it is “right”.

Dave Zatz (independent blogger): Unfortunately, I think for many bloggers being first is important for traffic which directly corresponds to ad revenue. And of course controversy sells. Most of my PR people I have a relationship with at this point, so it’s very different. In fact, I’m visiting a company in Virginia tomorrow to be briefed by the CEO. No freebie hardware, just an overview for me and I’ll shoot some pics.

Robert Scoble (aka The Scobleizer): It seems like a majority of the time when I ask a PR person for something I want, I get answered “no”, and it sours me on working with PR people.  Also, I think there’s not much homework being done, just a lot of repurposing press releases.  I think it’s not just a blogger thing, by the way, I think it’s a journalism thing in general these days. There’s exceptions to these rules, and they really stand out from the crowd.  Lastly, there’s too much pressure on being first, yet there’s no pressure on being right.

It’s probably not too hard for me to go out on a limb and say the incentive system in place for modern journalism is, in a word, screwed.  Bloggers are pushed by numerous market forces to be first, under any circumstances – a fact that was equally lamented by the bloggers with whom I spoke. And with the high growth rate of Twitter as the next big place to break news, it doesn’t seem like a problem that’s about to get better or go away.  Which is sad, but probably just the state of things for now.

That said, I sure do hope to see more people playing at the same level.  It’s easy to call out PR firms, since so many do employ inappropriate, outdated media buying techniques.  But it’s easy to call out bloggers and twitterers too. There are a lot of glass houses out there, and rapid-fire typists with pervasive Internet access are throwing more and more stones, inadvertently or not.

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 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.

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 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.

Sep 24

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing, Social Media

Who's Best for Community Management?

For some thoughts on startups and community managers, I recommend reading Jeremiah Owyang’s piece on “Should Startups Have Communtiy Managers” and Marshall Kirkpatrick’s “Do Startup Companies Need Community Managers”. I recommend the read because, like any marketing tactic, there’s no single one-size-fits-all answer. Some companies desperately need them, others will never. But once a company’s made the decision to have one, the next question is who’s best for the role?

First off, being a community manager is not for everyone. When I used to run the SlingCommunity, I used to tell people the right way to do it was to live with a combination of thick- and thin-skinnedness. I had to remain thinskinned enough where I took every piece of negative feedback openly and honestly. It’s never about user error or someone “not getting it”, it’s about doing it better and better until they do “get it,” regardless of how right I was (or wasn’t). That said, it’s also key to be thickskinned enough where not everything is taken personally, it’s important not to get mired down in negativity.

So who’s the right person for this job? Here’s some candidates:

The Leader (president/CEO)
Having the leader of a company be the community manager is a very tricky play. Fundamentally it’s a time-consuming role, and the typical startup CEO just plain shouldn’t have enough free time to do it. As the company is launching a product/service, I do recommend the CEO have a lot of personal visibility within their community. Unfortunately, as the company grows, the CEO will inevitably become too busy to stay active within the community, and depending on their involvement early on, could leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth for some of the earliest adopters.

VP/Director-level: Marketing, Product Management, Product Marketing, etc
Having a VP/Director-level person could be perfect, if its at the kind of company where these level people are highly engaged in the product/services, but not overly committed managing people.  Busy-ness is a problem, as managing a community is a time-consuming proposition.  That said, these level people tend to be able to represent the company well, bring senior-level attention to an important job, and lend a lot of credibility.  Definitely a possibility, but probably not the best choice for most firms.

Manager-level: Marketing, Product Management, Product Marketing, etc.
Now we’re cooking with gas.  I’m a big fan of the same people who have “hands-on” roles with products being the visible advocate externally.  Also, manager-level people can do a great job explaining the vision/thought process of a company to the outside world while simultaneously taking in valuable feedback.  The only concern I’d raise here is for the PM’s who don’t have enough resources internally to give them the spare, regular time intervals to engage in the community (it’s important not to ebb and flow, but to have consistent presence).  This is most likely the best bet for many companies.

“Dedicated Community Manager” (aka Chief Community Officer, Evangelist, etc
I have very mixed feelings here.  It’s certainly a really positive sign to the outside world that a company has gone so far as to hire a dedicated person to run their community.  That said, it also can create some friction as the individual will often have to answer to many different voices.  If the company is ready to have a community manager become the true voice of the product’s customer base, and give him/her the right venue to express and share feedback, then this approach is often a great win.  If the community manager doesn’t have an internal audience, however, this can backfire tremendously.  Also, it’s essential that the community manager have specific tasks, deliverables, etc, and not just “maintain” the community.  Lastly, try not to come up with a goofy title here, it’ll look silly a few years out.

Outsourced Individual/Team
There are some times when outsourcing the community management can be extremely effective.  In my opinion, these times are exactly when there’s also internal resources dedicated as well.  There is no way to completely “hand off” the community to a third party and watch from afar.  I do recommend working with a firm that specifically does community management, and I’d further recommend picking one with domain expertise.  Managing a developer community is radically different from media producers which is in turn different from gadget communities.

Customer Support/Service
While I believe the customer service division of a company must be at least aware of the community, I also think they must be at most involved.  Fundamentally customer service departments have different responsibilities and objectives than the specific needs of a community, and I’ve found it’s a bit more challenging to align those needs.  I’m sure there are some places where this is the perfect fit, but from my experience it should be approached with caution.

Distributed Effort
In truth all employees have a responsibility to the community.  Everyone should be aware of hot topics, trends, themes, etc that are going on for a company’s user base.  It’s also great to have as many employees as possible actually participating, whether its creating content, responding to issues, or otherwise being active.  But I also don’t think it’s sufficient to let things run haphazard.  Without someone being ‘in charge’ it can easily get confusing for the community members themselves, and issues can easily get overlooked (or the flipside, too much attention to a minor/non-issue).

As you assess what your company needs, try to project the needs of your community.  Will they need a lot of technical information?  Will they want to hear human interest stories?  Will they want humor and fun, or seriousness and clarity?  Will they be tolerant of fluctuating response times, or expect posts and comments within minutes?  There are many reasons to have a community, and many ways to run one.  Figure out as much as you can for your products and your customers in advance, and the right individual/group should emerge from the pool.

Sep 21

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Not Everyone Can Build Relationships

I’ve read post after post from bloggers and entrepreneurs on how the best way to market your company is by being the uber-evangelist and making relationships with all the key influencers. It’s great in theory, and for the very lucky few who can pull it off, I say mazel tov.  The unfortunate reality with this kind of advice is it just doesn’t apply to most entrepreneurs or CEOs, and is over-the-top idealistic.

Reason #1: Introverts.  There are plenty of amazingly intelligent people out there who are, simply put, bad with people.  This doesn’t make them any less qualified to start a business, but it sure makes evangelizing it a challenge.  So telling the less socially inclined entrepreneurs that the only way for them to market their business is through relationship-building and going to techie meetups isn’t necessarily the best advice.

Reason #2: The Geographically Challenged.  Carnegie said it best, but we all know that location matters.  But that shouldn’t be the only way to build a successful business. Not everyone feels like uprooting their entire personal life just to go to San Francisco or New York or another hub.  I’ve known extremely successful entrepreneurs in Boise, Montreal (Go Habs!), Indianapolis, not to mention internationally run businesses.  In fact, it’s highly ironic that location should matter so much with the modern capabilities of remote working.

Reason #3: Busy People. Many startup CEOs need to spend their time on the core business.  Whether it’s technical in nature or out there closing deals, it’s actually quite rare to find a CEO with enough free time to spend it meeting and greeting.  I’m not suggesting they not be well-networked, but it takes a lot of time to properly maintain media/influencer relationships.

Reason #4: It’s a Ponzi Scheme. I’ll switch tacks for a second here – let’s now assume that everyone is socially inclined, centrally-located, and has enough free time to go to every feedup, tweetup, blogup, and yawnup they can possibly find.  We all do not have the capacity to make sufficient relationships in the end.  Think of the “Top 10 Influencers” in your given field.  Now imagine the burden on them to build relationships with all the other entrepreneurs like you.  The numbers just don’t add up.

So where does this leave the, say, 90+% of entrepreneurs who need to take advantage of personal relationships, yet for one reason or another just aren’t able to make that work for them individually?  Well, I think it pretty well paints the case for relationship-oriented firms.  My only advice on how to pick them is to check those relationships!  There’s a big difference between a rolodex entry and a friendly, trusted relationship.

Sep 08

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Events, Marketing

9 Quick Tips to TC50 and DEMOfall Presenters

While I’ve blogged about my discomfort with the conflicting startup launch conferences (TechCrunch50 and DEMOfall), I still believe there’s plenty of opportunity on the table for the companies presenting. By now a handful of startups have already begun their presentations, a few on deck, and a bunch prepping themselves. I read a good post by Brian Solis on TechCrunch about “How to Stand Out from the Crowd” and thought I’d add some additional advice.

In no particular priority order:

  1. Set Realistic Goals: Are you there to meet VCs or to meet press? Or maybe to meet potential business partners? There’s only so many hours in the day, and as you’ve by now noticed, there’s lots of people you could meet. Pick some specific, achievable goals, and put all your energy toward that. It’s easy to get distracted at an event like this, so focus is important.
  2. Watch Presentations Before Your Own: If you are demoing this afternoon, or tomorrow, you have plenty of time to watch some other presenters. Get a feel for the room and the crowd. See what’s working well, and what’s not. Even if you’ve spent months creating a good demo script, you are getting more useful data right now than you can possibly have prepared for. Be nimble, don’t be rigid.
  3. Have FUN up there: I’m a natural windbag, so I always enjoy being on a stage. But not everyone feels so comfortable in front of a large audience. That’s understandable, but the only advice I have is: “get over it!” This is the time to shine, not retreat. It’s just a few minutes, and while they may be extremely important minutes, don’t get so serious that you can’t enjoy your time. Your audience will know if you are comfortable or sweating bullets, and if you are trying your best, and smiling and (gasp) joking around, they’ll be on your side. Nothing wrong with being nervous, but people are going to want to like you, just make it easy for them!
  4. Have your 10 second pitch ready: You only have a few minutes on stage, but you’re going to spend hours in the halls networking. Let’s face it, with all the “power players” around, everybody’s in a rush. You need to give a quick, compelling pitch, and don’t be offended when someone doesn’t want to know more. But if you take 2 minutes just to explain your story, they probably won’t be around to hear it all. Be fast and to the point.
  5. Share the VIPs: There are some crazy bigwig type folks hanging around at these events. If you are lucky enough to get a few minutes with someone uber-important, please remember they are busy too, and there are many others like yourself who are just trying to meet them at all. There’s nothing more frustrating than standing behind someone giving their life story to a guy you’ve been dying to meet and exchange cards with. Give your pitch, swap cards, be friendly, and then, move on. It’s just good karma
  6. Plan to Follow-up: This might sound obvious, but if you don’t plan to follow-up, don’t bother taking cards. Your window is 1 week, no more.
  7. Wear Schwag: Let’s be honest, your goal is some amount of attention-getting. Might as well throw on a shirt (make one at Zazzle if need be), it’ll help people who are trying to find you. It may be gimmicky, but wouldn’t you rather be found than… not found?
  8. Have a Tie-In: It’s always good to be able to say something like “Yeah, I was the guy on stage with the picture of the 5-foot-tall mouse” (or some other, more relevant idea). You don’t have to go crazy, just something that the audience will remember if you bring it up.
  9. Don’t Get Drunk: Yes, we’ve all seen it. The people at the launch parties/events that have one too many drinks, and no pal to get them out of sight. Don’t be that guy.

Good luck at the show everyone!

UPDATE: I’m going to add one more from Robert Scoble (paraphrased): Don’t launch at a major conference with a “sucky” Web site!

Sep 01

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

When Should You Launch at a Competition-Based Conference

Next week the TechCrunch50 and DEMOfall conferences will see the launch of some 122 new startups (my estimate based on the 70 presentations at DEMO and 52 at TC50 – the number may be wrong). Beyond all debate about which conference to attend, I must say I’m amazed at the numbers, especially considering how many were rejected (rumored to be many hundreds more). While some companies will do well at the events (my prediction is less than 10 brands will be memorable within 2 weeks of the shows), most will not.

I typically advice clients against launching at events like these (though attending is a completely different story). I think they are losing propositions for most really good companies. Being forced onto a stage to present your entire vision in 6 minutes and then be judged and scrutinized in front of the media isn’t quite a comfortable scenario. So many things can go wrong regardless of your product, technology, rehearsing, etc. Further, anyone with a really good technology or product and a decent marketing/PR team can line up the necessary press at their own schedule with a good demo environment.

That said, I can see a few reasons/benefits and thought I’d share some strategies.

  • The Unknown Players. Let’s face it, there’s most certainly an advantage to the well-networked entrepreneurs (which is why people like Jason Calacanis and Loic Lemeur think PR is so worthless – they are already so well networked they can get the press and meetings just by asking friends). If you are from outside the Valley, or this is your first startup and you can’t afford a PR firm, events like these will let you build up a rolodex in just a couple of days. Your goal: networking.
  • Almost Ready Products. Maybe you’ve been working on your tech for a long while (or not-so-long) and you aren’t quite ready for “real” launch yet. But there’s a huge conference happening just around the corner, let’s say a few weeks prior to your readiness. This could be a clever way to generate some buzz around your vision. BTW – your vision better be good! Your goal: build buzz.
  • Amazing Presenters. If you are an over-the-top good presenter, the shows could be good venues for you. Let’s face it, most presenters are not good, they don’t listen/react/engage with their audience, they aren’t compelling, show too many dull slides, etc. If you are an A+ presenter, this is a fun time to shine out amongst the dullards. Your goal: wow em, win some kind of recognition.
  • Me-Too Trendy Tech. Following/chasing a bandwagon? Building in the moment? These conferences are often breeding grounds for follow-the-leader companies, and could be a good place to network for a future acquisition. Please note: I’m certainly not encouraging everyone to go out and build the same stuff, but let’s face it – it happens, and if you find yourself in a sea of similar products, you’ll need all the networking help you can get. Your goal: standing out from the crowd.

Will the shows be full of interesting companies? Absolutely. Are there other reasons to demo/launch? Probably a few I can’t think of. Will new companies launch in the third week of September, thus moving on to new shinier toys for us to all play with? Yes. Will 100+ companies launch and nearly vanish moments thereafter? Yup.

Don’t believe me? Name 10 companies (without googling) who launched at DEMOspring or TechCrunch40 last year. I’ll get you started: Xobni, Mint, … uh… hmm…

Aug 26

Posted by Jim

Posted in Clients, Marketing

Client News: Involver brings micro-lending to Facebook and MySpace

Today Involver announced they introduced over 100,000 people on Facebook and MySpace to micro-lending with Kiva.org, and thousands are sharing the message within their personal network.

Involver is using its video campaign platform to bring important, world changing content to hundreds of thousands of people on social networks. Working with organizations like Save Darfur and Kiva.org, Involver is delivering important messages to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with these causes.

Kiva chose the Involver video campaign platform to tap into Facebook and MySpace, attracting a new audience to their person-to-person micro-lending website. Kiva understands the power of connecting people for a common cause, and hopes to empower members of social networks to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.

Congratulations go out to Involver on another successful campaign!

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