Friday, July 31, 2009

Why you should not send out press releases at trade shows

Unless the company you work for or your client is the 800-pound gorilla of your industry or a Fortune 500 company, issuing press releases during trade shows is almost always a waste of time.

I know it has been the compulsion of many an executive to make big announcements at their trade events. It's easy to get inside an exec's head for this: all my peers will be there and all kinds of reporters and bloggers will be attending. You know, it's a nice ego stroke to trumpet your new product in front of your rivals, imagining your photo being taken and basking in the glory.

Publicists flip into autopilot -- "yes, yes, that's a good idea!" -- warming up their PR Newswire and Business Wire accounts to issue those releases on the first day of the conference or event.

Here are two big reasons to slam on the brakes before you think about doing that:

1) There are probably going to be 200 other companies attending the conference issuing press releases on the very same day. They will clog the paid wire services and bombard the attending journalists. Your release is just a teardrop in the ocean, placing it on a long, long deli line where you are number 87 and there are a lot of people placing the same order in front of and behind you. You're lost. What did your mother warn you -- "Just because Johnny is doing it doesn't mean you have to do it too!"

2) If Google, Yahoo, Apple, NBC Universal or Microsoft are holding a press conference, that's where all the reporters will be swarming and then writing about it immediately afterward. Those companies can pretty much snap their fingers and they will dominate the bulk of the coverage. If you're not the pistol-hot king of the industry, the publicly-traded straw that stirs the drink, well, you'd better cross your fingers somebody shows up to even shake your hand and write a line or two about your product.

If you don't want to be lost in the sauce, how can you still blow your horn around these conferences?

Strategically, the best approach is following the advice of baseball Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler: "hit it where they ain't." Make your announcement in the week leading up to the event when reporters' attention is not diverted and you are standing on the long conga line of event attendees trying to single themselves out. Reporters love to get scoops before everybody else, so why not feed into that basic fact? Wouldn't it be better to get a story out just a few days before the event so when you show up there, your peers and prospects are already buzzing about you?

This tactic worked successfully when my then client, content marketplace Mochila, wanted to unveil its new transaction interface at a forthcoming Ad:Tech event, right after I broke their launch in the New York Times. It wasn't hard to convince Mochila that being part of the usual pack mentality of making announcements at events was pointless. Instead, the week before Ad:Tech, I called up and landed "preview" articles in ClickZ, Adweek and Mediapost. Mochila had the playing field all to themselves.

Just remember this basic PR tenet: The best publicity is done in advance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Who is the NY Mets' "behind the scenes" PR firm?

From a strictly professional point of view, I have always wondered who is really commandeering the NY Mets' public relations because of the so-many ill-advised moves and non-moves.

I was wondering if this was all Jay Horwitz, who has run the team's PR for 30 years?

When the Mets committed PR suicide last year in the inept way they fired manager Willie Randolph, it seemed that nobody was guiding the team's management sensibly. Now all hell has broken loose again and the press has come out with their knives: the team is not only bombing, but reports have broken of VP of player development Tony Bernazard taking off his shirt and challenging their Binghamton minor league team to a fight, getting into a fracas with relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez and yelling at a Diamondbacks scout who accidentally sat in the wrong Citi Field seat.

The Mets ownership is MIA and Omar Minaya's standard press reply, which he repeats over and over, is that they are "investigating, investigating, investigating." Nobody is putting their foot down while the Mets' brand is getting whacked like an Albert Pujols grand slam.

So I'm thinking to myself -- is this all under the advisement of Jay Horwitz? Is it the plan of Mets management who know nothing about PR and communications?

Then, I saw NY Post sportswriter Joel Sherman's blog mention a "behind the scenes" PR firm that the Mets use. This is the first I have heard of the team using an outside communications adviser.

Why is their name not public? Why are they hiding? At least we know with the Yankees, Howard Rubenstein is the mouthpiece!

And whoever they are, is the team listening to them or ignoring them?

I'm curious to know how long this firm has been with the team because I think the Mets are a fascinating case study in dysfunctional communications.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why "pay for play" PR does not work

Recently, an Asian tech company approached me to help them publicize their iPhone app to drive downloads into more revenue. They had one little taste of PR since they put version 1.00 in the store last fall -- MacRumors mentioned them in a few forum posts, sending the downloads number up tenfold for a few days and then back to earth.

Now that they tasted the gold, they wanted it on a regular basis, understandably. However, they only wanted a "pay for play" arrangement where they would only pay for articles that appear from a list of media we'd collaborate on. Not only that, they'd only pay for "positive" articles.

I don't know how PR is done in Asia, but I rejected the plan immediately. Forget about the "positive articles" part -- that's just ludicrous.

"Pay for play" seems like a back-up plan for a company that is just plain insecure about public relations. They know what it is and what it can do. They just don't want to invest in it if they don't have to. Not just monetarily, but relationship-wise as well. It's hard to imagine establishing much of a partnership or strategic collaboration on this basis.

The other big downside for "pay for play" is that the publicist is under no obligation to do the job. If you only get paid when you make a placement, I'd rather be spending my time with the clients who have invested in my work and I have an ongoing productive relationship with.

I explained to the tech company: "Two weeks can go by and you won't hear from me. You'll call me up and say, hey, what's going on with our app campaign? My reply would be 'I'm working with my committed clients and if I get around to your app, I will.' You've lost two weeks and frankly, I may not end up doing it for another two weeks, if at all."

Of course, there's that nice fee that they are dangling for each of those placements. However, there are more important things than that, such as commitment, engagement and ongoing interaction.

Instead of transacting PR like buying a hamburger at McDonald's, I'd rather be in the kitchen creating the menu.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The magic formula for public relations ROI

Over the course of dozens of e-mail interviews for a forthcoming BNET article, several PR firms and their clients could not articulate any discernible return on investment (ROI) metric for press releases they sent out over BusinessWire, PRNewswire, and PRWeb.

If there was no ROI on the money invested in paid for release syndication services, how was anybody measuring success at all?

Here are four answers I received from public relations firms about ROI on the paid wire services:

  • "I expect there is a way to measure ROI, Drew, but it could involve a monitoring cost, and then what would be be measuring? In fact, I believe my clients and I may differ in how we measure ROI. When I place stories in media that reach my clients' markets, then I believe I've done my job. My clients, on the other hand, might measure ROI in the inquiries and reservations they receive from the stories. Others may measure it in the name recognition they know they're getting from paid wire press release distribution."
  • "No ROI measurement or web site traffic measurement done by my clients in relation to PR."
  • "I haven't seen an ROI measurement model yet that I think is worth a damn, so I don't measure that way."
  • "That's really difficult to measure and our clients don't demand it."

In an economic downturn, ROI definitions can't be this hazy because no company wants to throw money away on PR and not know the benefit of what they are getting. There is no excuse for any client to be on autopilot when it comes to PR and just merely accepting seeing their names somewhere.

The old stand-by "what the equivalent cost in advertising space dollars" metric has been weakened, especially with the tumbling prices the media is charging for ads, and the pull power of social media.

Seeing your name and company in an article or blog is half the battle -- it's what happens afterward that is the heart of any ROI.

For example, one of my clients is a brand research firm which desires press in certain industrial sectors because they have the most financial upside. I have a list of those target sectors, so when I get big stories in those places, the phones really do ring for them. Their sales force uses those stories to pry open doors and make appointments.

Clients should tell publicists what happens after interviews are published or broadcast appearances are made. Do they get phone calls and/or e-mails? Do they get a bump in web traffic and online queries? Are the results distributed to the sales force? (Over the years, some of my clients let me e-mail media placements directly to sales reps around the country).

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch's catchphrase was "How am I doing?" This is something that not only every publicist should ask themselves, but every one of their clients too. And they should be talking about "how they're doing" together frequently because that's the true measure of ROI.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What is this line for?

See this long line?

People waiting to renew their driver's license?

Laid-off workers filing for their unemployment claims?

No, it is a line of all the former Michael Jackson publicists looking to get their media sound bites today.

Monday, July 6, 2009

5 reasons you should be using an RSS reader

RSS is the communications technology everybody seems to have overlooked.

It never fails to amaze me when I am speaking with a group and ask the audience to raise their hands if they have an RSS reader, and I get a sea of puzzled expressions.

If you are a believer in the saying that "Knowledge is Power" and you want to be as well informed as possible with the least amount of hassle, there's no excuse not to have an RSS reader.

First, an explanation of RSS (Real Simple Syndication): almost all web sites and blogs have feeds in which the content is sent almost like a pipeline to readers, which can be built into browsers (Firefox), web-based (Google Reader, Netvibes, My Yahoo) or a software program.

Think of all the web sites you read on a daily basis, and you'll see the orange RSS symbol somewhere (or if you can't find it, use your browser's "Find" function and type in "RSS"). Click on it and you'll get the special feed URL for that site, or a set of URL's for each stream of news. For example, if you want to follow PR Rock and Roll, the feed URL is http://feeds.feedburner.com/prrockandroll. A news site like the New York Times has multiple URL's, each one for a different sections of news, bloggers or columnists.

By cutting and pasting these URL's in the readers, you get a continuously updated pipeline from all your favorite sites straight to your desktop.

My favorite is Newsgator's FeedDemon (pictured above), which can be downloaded for free at the company's site. I keep the Windows software program open all the time, and it conveniently minimizes itself into the toolbar, running a visible alert when your feed are being updated. It's truly the Swiss Army knife of RSS readers, where you can save articles as clippings, create a "newspaper" viewing format, search for past articles, listen to streaming audio, watch video, and click onto any story to bring up the actual story posted in a mini-browser or your own default browser.

Why should all of you be using an RSS reader right now? Here are five great reasons, but once you are hooked onto RSS feeds, I guarantee you'll come up with more and wonder how you ever lived without them.

1) More information in less time: Instead of hopping from one site to the other, searching through different bookmark folders to click through on your most important sites, the information from all of them actively travels to you in one efficient package. You will be up to speed on all your favorite web sites and blogs in no time.

2) Clip posts and articles from the web: You want to save a valuable article you're reading, but you don't want to print it out (very un-green). RSS readers can "clip" those articles and put them in personalized folders you set up. Great for referencing information at future times.

3) Follow Twitter and LinkedIn updates: Nearly every Twitter feed has an RSS feed, so look for that magic orange symbol (usually below the Following... box) and cut and paste the code as a new subscription. Here's the RSS URL for my Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline/11213522.rss. You do not have to be a follower of anybody on Twitter to receive their RSS feed. On your LinkedIn home page, click on the orange symbol next to the Network Updates, and you'll be given the subscription URL to follow what all your connections are doing, including adding new people, joining groups, and posting queries. A great way to follow the burgeoning spider web of this highly useful professional service.

4) Find travel deals quickly: If you are searching for a flight or hotel bargain, why go researching on several sites when the bargain alerts can come right to your reader. My favorite is Airfarewatchdog's blog feed, which is on top of many sudden major deals, others feed devoted to fares to the Asia, Caribbean, domestic US flights and others.

5) Unclutter your e-mail in-box: Google Alerts are fantastic in tracking any kind of news, name, or topic, but your in-box can be hammered if you're tracking something popular. As an alternative, do a Google News search, and then click on the "RSS" with the orange symbol below the News Alerts link. Now, you'll be able to get your results in your RSS reader instead, and you can clip the stories you want to keep. Alternatively, FeedDemon has a "Watch" function that you can input like a Google search, and looks for instances of those words in every RSS feed you track.