Location, Location, Location…Or, Maybe Not: A PR Perspective

As Americans running a public relations and marcom firm in Israel, we occasionally encounter Israeli companies who only want to hire a firm based in America, and generally, the larger the better. While some of this will read as a commercial, it’s born of a pet peeve that exceeds even my capacity for irony.

The prevailing assumption is that geographic proximity is important. The truth is, today, the notion that a firm has to be located in Boston or Silicon Valley is simply wrong.

Perhaps five years ago, this may have been relevant. However, most outreach is now done by email and to a far lesser extent by telephone. Gone are the days of “bonding” over three martini lunches.

With current economic realities, most journalists and bloggers are freelancers working from home, writing for multiple publications. In-person media tours are largely a thing of the past, as these journalists don’t have time to take three hours away from their offices. A 30-minute phone call is about as much time as you can expect from the modern journalist.

Even most analysts are now home-based, and an analyst tour consists of a few office visits with the majors only – Gartner, Forrester, etc.

Trade show media relations is the only time journalists – and not even all of them (the freelancers cannot afford to travel) – are seen in public. Hiring an America-based agency for a once-per-year event doesn’t make economic sense.

The desire to hire an American-based firm is also counterintuitive since budget is often a primary concern, and American rates are several times higher than what Israeli-based service providers charge.

Consider the context: K2’s team is native born Americans with master’s degrees from major American universities. We bring a combined 50+ years of experience, along with American-level service standards.

Plus, working with a “boutique” agency has clear advantages. You’re always working with senior management. We don’t pass you along to junior staff or interns. The relationships we develop and nurture with journalists, bloggers and analysts remain intact, in perpetuity, to your benefit. We also have an American phone number, so our calls are returned.

Finally, working with an agency based in Israel provides global coverage. We’re speaking with Asians in the morning and Californians at night. Most American firms don’t provide the international reach we can.

Makes common sense, doesn’t it? Contact us to reap K2’s advantages.

 

Sorry (Not Really), PR and Marcom Are Not Free

Running a boutique PR and marcom firm in Israel brings me into contact with many interesting and amusing people and provides me with many a special “Huh?” moment, as in, “Did I really just hear that correctly?” (In my head, it’s actually “WTF”?) Included in these noteworthy moments are those extra special meetings when someone tells me I should work for free. Seriously.

This includes utterances about assessing our performance and later paying what he feels we’re worth based on “results.” Forget all other variables – like the actual viability of his product or his company’s history or reputation. Of course, the “results” are often vague or poorly defined and always stacked in favor of nonpayment.

To be embarrassingly honest, we have in the past, against our better judgment, agreed to perform services on a results basis. Obviously, we got burned. We once dropped a multimillion dollar sales lead on our client’s doorstep, only to be told that he wanted to break our contract and not pay us as he had agreed. This did force us to reevaluate our business model for the better – after I made damned sure we got paid.

Telling people that they’ll maybe make money in the future, if you feel like paying them, does not motivate them to get up every day and bust their asses for you; this seems an elusive concept to some.

We try to ascertain the seriousness of the client before any in-person meeting with a call to review the potential client’s history in regard to PR and marcom (often minimal), make sure they understand that there’s work and finances involved, and inform them of our services and minimum fees for both retainer and project work. Unfortunately, the best laid plans…

I’ll share one of these meetings to illustrate my point.

My partner and I drove 40 minutes to meet with M, the director of marketing for a cleantech company. They had been in business for about 10 years when we met with them in 2006, and it was still essentially a two-man operation. It initially established connections with a few distributors in Europe, which kept the company afloat but had since stagnated. He bemoaned their lack of growth for the past several years despite having an interesting product. I asked why there was no news or similarly engaging material on his website and inquired as to what sort of outreach he performed. He said had made no efforts in marketing or PR whatsoever, proudly adding that he didn’t really believe in this. This augured poorly, and I wondered why he wanted to meet with us at all.

M stated that they wanted to penetrate the North American market, adding, “We don’t believe in paying retainers.” As it turns out, he didn’t much believe in project fees, either. This, after affirming that they understood our fee structure over the phone. He mouthed some vague plan on evaluating our worth later on and deciding what to pay us.

Despite the burning urge to ask how, given his philosophy, he felt comfortable drawing a salary, month after month, year after year, with no growth for several years, I told him, “I’m sorry, we don’t, under any circumstances, work for free.” He suggested that we do a rather labor-intensive project, for free, of course, after which he might consider hiring us. No, thanks!

This wasn’t the first time this happened, but given this gentleman’s long history of failure in growing his company, it stands out as a unique moment of arrogance and was thus the most annoying.

Amazingly, the company’s website is still up…the exact same website as in 2006, including their stated intention to enter the U.S. market in 2005. Is M still there? Who knows. He did us a favor and didn’t make it our problem.

 

To Release or Not to Release…and How to Go About It

This basically comes down to an exercise in empathy.

Put yourselves in a journalist’s place. Your email box is flooded. You’ve got the pressures of staying abreast of key players in your markets while having to absorb the importance of new products and companies.

Most importantly, you’ve got deadlines.

Which emails get opened first? What’s really newsworthy? Which pitch is worth following up?

These are the factors I consider when deciding “To Release or Not to Release,” whether someone’s “news” merits a press release. After all, what’s the first rule of public speaking? Consider your audience.

Journalists and leading bloggers are your initial audience, the gatekeepers who decide if your news lands in front of key industry players and qualified sales leads. Therefore, you really have to ask yourself if your news is really interesting enough to grab their attention.

For instance, it may be important to you that you’re going out on a fundraising tour or will be at a tech get-together touting 20 new companies, but the press may not share your joy – at least until you’ve become a familiar name by establishing yourself in the market via sales supported by a well-conceived, ongoing PR campaign.

Publicize your wins, releases of new products and versions, key partnerships…you know, news.

From my experience, it’s also important to note if you’re not generating enough news. It’s a warning sign that things may not be going in the right direction, and it’s time to examine what you’re doing and not doing.

One avenue is to bring in a fresh, creative PR perspective. Consult with us, bring us in, let us be more useful to you. That’s why we’re here.

And once your news is out there, it’s pitch time…but only with a targeted list of journalists. Remember, many, if not most of them, prefer to be contacted only by email. Clients have to understand this. We’ve made thousands of placements and arranged countless interviews purely via email. The phone should be used but only with discretion. Highly selective targeting is the key for some persistent, lovingly performed professional nagging.

It’s also wise to remember that even journalists with whom we have a great relationship won’t accept every pitch. There’s no point in alienating a good contact by pushing too hard.

We, your PR representatives, will be more than happy to follow up on a release and try to pitch an interview for you. We’ve made some amazing placements, from Forbes to ComputerWorld as well as the leading journals and blogs in many industries.

When we arrange your interviews, make sure you’ll actually be there. Don’t stand them up, and don’t reschedule more than once.

Journalists recognize this as a sign of disrespect for their time. Guess what’s going to happen to subsequent pitches. It ain’t gonna be pretty…especially if they were on deadline.

Remember:

  • Make sure your release is newsworthy
  • Consider your audience
  • Make it interesting!
  • Respect the journalists’ time
  • Keep your PR team close

New Year’s Resolutions for Success with Your PR Firm

Happy New Year!

We at K2 are grateful for the wonderful people we’ve had the opportunity to work with over the last seven years and look forward to continuing with many of you even as we further expand our horizons in 2012.

  1. The first and most obvious is to have a PR/marcom budget in place. One of the things that gets continually reinforced are the cultural differences between American and Israeli clients. For the past few months, our outreach efforts in Israel have often been met with “call us in January or February when we have our budgeting done.” American firms more typically have the coming year’s budget done in October or November. With a budget in place, long-term planning can begin well before the new year, with things like projected project launches, website revisions, etc., being funded, along with allocating resources for events along the way like wins, key partnerships and crises. In fact, Israeli companies are only beginning to realize that PR and marcom have to be budgeted entities, just like R&D. There tends to be a lot of last-minute shuffling, usually around getting budgets for trade shows (and trade-show support) and launches. Often, even launches aren’t budgeted, which generally results in lackluster sales. Even clients with whom we had at least weekly phone conferences have only given us a month’s notice of a launch! This leads us to
  2. Work in close collaboration with your PR team. We’re here because we want you to be successful; in fact, to some extent we’ve thrown our lot in with yours, and we want us all to be successful. We’re your partners, we care, you’re not an afterthought to us, we shouldn’t be an afterthought to you. Our contracts generally call for weekly calls. Bring up your plans and concerns. And weekly is minimal, call us, get us more involved, expand the relationship, push us. We already agreed to work with you, we’ll happily expand the scope of our efforts.
  3. Listen to your PR team, you’ll benefit from our experience. Sometimes we’ll tell you to push things more aggressively, at other times we’ll say “it’s not worth it,” and save you time and money.
  4. Don’t constantly ask for freebies. We’ll go above and beyond the contract – at times. If you really need more service, expand your agreement. It’s a natural process that as your business grows, its needs grow, too. The first key to this is
  5. Purchase an adequate level of service. We realize that your needs may vary from month to month, so if you need one less document but additional outreach instead, that’s usually fine. Flexibility breeds flexibility. Don’t “nickel and dime” us, and we’ll be happy to flow with your needs. If you choose to purchase the minimum package, there’s little leeway. PR pays off by putting you in front of qualified leads. You’re investing in yourself.

To a successful 2012!

 

10 Reasons PR Matters, Revisited

Read an interesting piece, “10 reasons PR matters,” by Doug Flora. He adopts the usual Twainian stance that rumors of PR’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

For me, though, only #2 on his list, “Reputation is a C-level concern,” comes closest to grasping one of the key values of PR: Securing third-party validation. Garnering third-party validation is key to funneling qualified buyers into your sales pipeline. Endorsements from those that advise and shape markets are, and always will be, essential when putting clients in front of key decision makers in the purchasing process.

Look, we all think we’re great. Advertisements, which some firms jump to before PR, are just us saying we’re great. Press releases about the newest version of your technology, with glowing internal quotes, can be informative. However, having the movers and shakers in your industry write positively about you is far more powerful in a B-to-B environment.

While Flora’s third point, crisis is chronic, leans toward overstatement, if your company doesn’t have contingency plans for when things go sideways, you could be in trouble. If your public face isn’t friendly, sympathetic, and well planned (with your basic messaging documents, as always, the center of your approach), you’re in for a rough ride.

Point #7, “It’s the economy, stupid,” addresses one of my key pet peeves, companies that don’t budget for PR and ultimately die on the vine or get bought out at the last minute for pennies on the dollar. Too many cases exist where great technologies were essentially kept secret and went the way of the dinosaur because of this short-sighted approach.

Interestingly, point #10, “There is, in fact, a ROI” delineates a few types of value not picked up in traditional metrics, including the idea that “building a reservoir of goodwill can help companies overcome crises during which their reputations are under scrutiny.” An aspect of this, which is also difficult to measure, is the value of the relationships your PR professional has forged in your industry.

Getting the Most from Your PR Firm

I came across a helpful article in PR Daily, “9 tips to get more from your PR resources,” by Dorothy Crenshaw . Some of it is common sense, but if common sense were common…

Here’s the list with my additions/comments:

1. Commit the time. While we don’t include a two-way time commitment in our contracts, we do spell out time frames, “rush” periods and requests for notification at least 60 days before trade shows and events. We also specify phone conferences every 7-14 days and quarterly face time to keep everyone abreast of developments and on the same page.

2. Communicate your goals and expectations. We are very specific about deliverables in our agreements and provide monthly reports to show what we’ve done to make them happen.

3. Challenge your PR team. DC: “I had a client who, when giving us creative direction, would constantly urge us to challenge ourselves. His catch phrase was, “Be bold; be brave.”” Personally, I seriously prefer being cut loose to cookie cutter work and always appreciate being unleashed. Clients like this are golden.

4. Respect their time. “…if your team works on a flat fee basis, and you know they’ll eat the extra hours at month’s end, don’t abuse it…” Everyone understands that situations arise, and something extra needs to be done. There are, however, clients who chronically do this, which builds an unhealthy dose of resentment into the relationship. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to tactfully say, “We’ve completed all the deliverables for this month, do you want me to put this first on the list for next month?” This will not mollify the “emergency” prone histrionic or narcissistic types, so further tact will be required…or an additional fee.

5. Ask for feedback. The only qualifier is that if you ask for feedback, you may not be told what you want to hear. One client’s CTO was a chronic no show for appointments or constantly rescheduled, leading to his reputation as “a flake.” A true narcissist, he was astounded that everyone didn’t understand that his time was more valuable than everyone else’s. Again, this requires considerable tact.

6. Be transparent. “As much as possible, communicate your company’s business goals, not just the communications aims, to your PR team. The more they know, the more they can help you reach them.” Another type of golden client, the true collaborator. Clients like these bring us in close and respect both us and our time, while providing a clear image of what needs to be done in the big picture, which is where I function best.

7. Manage expectations internally. “Poor management of expectations is probably the single biggest reason that client-agency relationships fail. A good firm will try to manage yours, but when senior executives have a different set of expectations, everyone looks bad.” Let’s face it, people within organizations are often not on the same page. For example, the CEO may be focused on an appearance in TechCrunch to bring thousands of site visitors. However, most will not be qualified leads. Marketing and sales managers generally prefer to appear on niche trade websites, where their buyers really are. 

8. Give credit. “When you find those praiseworthy positives, make sure to include the rank-and-file team members who may not have a lot of face time with clients.” This pertains more to larger agencies as it’s stated, but can also apply to the client giving due recognition to the agency. Several years ago, we were working with a company that brought in a new CEO, who was looking to clean house. When we wrote and placed an article that led to a large sale within 24 hours of publishing, the new CEO thanked everyone in the sales process – except for us! Not one of the golden clients, to be sure.

9. Be a partner. “Yes, we throw that word around a lot in the agency business, but ultimately it means that the relationship goes beyond a transactional one.” An expansion on #6, it affirms the importance of the back and forth that makes for great collaboration.

Google’s Schmidt: Don’t Screw It Up

“Fifteen percent of the GDP growth has been due to the two-and-a-half percent of the economy that’s IT. In other words, don’t screw that up.” Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google

The Washington Post recently ran an interview with Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, about his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary antitrust committee. While it was thought provoking on several levels, it was Schmidt’s statement, “Fifteen percent of the GDP growth has been due to the two-and-a-half percent of the economy that’s IT,” that really grabbed my attention.

That’s a staggering amount of money generated from a very small percentage of the population. Besides showing how crucial the tech market is in a weakened, virtually stagnant economy, it gives pause for thought in other ways.

What are some of the best business practices that enable Google and other successful IT companies to shoulder such a disproportionate percentage of the economy?

As well-educated Americans living abroad, we’ve worked closely with companies in the U.S. and Israel who’ve sought to raise their international public profile. For me, from a marcom/PR perspective, Schmidt’s caveat, “In other words, don’t screw that up,” comes into play in several ways.

For most early-to-midstage businesses, not having an integrated messaging plan is a screw up.

Not building relationships with the most influential journalists, bloggers and analysts – the people who provide the all-important third-party validation while putting you in front of key decision makers – is a screw up.

Having a decent win and not shouting it from the rooftops to attract positive attention is a screw up.

Waiting for customers or the magical buyout genie to show up are massive screw ups. It doesn’t happen.

These are the screw ups that help stymie businesses and have led to many flameouts.

Over the last eight years, Google has increased its yearly marketing budget from just under $88,000 to more than $2 million. Do you know any successful companies that don’t budget for marketing, sales and PR?

While Google already had considerable name recognition when it went public, many challenges face the lesser-known companies and smaller, emerging technologies. Some will grow into giants, others will be bought by larger organizations at a fair valuation (the successful exit strategy), and others will fail, despite being technologically excellent.

Having met with dozens of companies over the last six years, a picture begins to emerge between companies that thrive, get additional rounds of funding, or continue to grow at a steady pace, and those that get bought out at fire-sale prices, or worse, wither on the vine.

Questions to ask yourself: Do you have a comprehensive marcom/PR plan for at least the next 12 months? Are you presenting a unified face to your market? Are your materials well written, with consistent messaging? Do the influencers in your space know who you are? Have you spoken to/been written about/written for them?

While R&D is critical to having an ever-improving product line, if you don’t allocate sufficient resources to marcom and PR, you will be setting yourself up for a screw up.

P.S. We’ve found that a highly targeted, niche approach is essential for getting your technology in front of the right people.

TechCrunch and Cabulous: Lessons for the Israeli Market

I read an interesting, if somewhat odd, article this morning, “How My Startup Suffered Thanks To Arrington’s Conflicts Of Interest,” by Tal Flanchraych, a former employee of Cabulous (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-09-12/tech/30155731_1_techcrunch-uber-venture-capital-funds). There’s much to be learned here for early to mid stage Israeli companies, primarily that being the first and/or best, in and of itself, doesn’t guarantee success.

Ms. Flanchraych decries the fact that Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch ignored her former company’s technology in favor of a competitor, Uber, because “when you look at Uber’s investors…has been led by Benchmark Capital — where Michael Arrington happens to be an LP. Because he did not directly invest in Uber as a company but funneled the money through Benchmark, he has clearly seen no need to disclose this relationship in articles he or his staffers have written about Uber.”

For me, the interesting part is that she doesn’t reflect on her own company’s role in this, apart from a brief comment that “it could be that we failed at our marketing PR efforts,” and doesn’t detail what Cabulous did – or didn’t do – PR/marcom wise. Its website gives no clue as to its strategy or work in this regard. There’s no “news” section to follow the trail of press releases, case studies or white papers. The “About Us” is a mere two sentences long, with two general email addresses for “General Info” and “Support,” a phone number with a San Francisco area code, and a brief video demoing the product.

The “if we build it, they will come” thinking is rampant. The concept of aggressive, niche PR outreach is still met with a wall of resistance, even by executives who have crashed multiple companies. “I don’t believe in that,” seems to be their battle cry. Sadly, this is a common occurrence with Israeli companies we‘ve met with. CEOs and marketing VPs complain that no one is seeking them out, and investors are hard to come by. Quoting the fact that companies are almost three times as likely to secure financing in the first two months of seeking additional rounds if they’ve been supported by a PR campaign is generally met with a shrug.

Bottom line for your bottom line: Well-planned, intelligently written marketing materials combined with third-party validation via a highly targeted PR campaign is essential. I’m a firm believer that while nothing in life is guaranteed, you’ve got to stack the deck in your favor whenever possible. I’ve been beating this drum for several years and will continue to do so: It doesn’t matter if you have the best product on the market if no one knows you’re there.

What’s in a Name – Why K2 is Rebranding

We’ve been known as K2 Strategic Innovations for the more than six years we’ve been in business. As of this week, we’ve rebranded as K2 Global Communications. This was not a decision taken lightly.

Innovations, in and of themselves, are usually not standalone entities. It really becomes a matter of how innovations are integrated into the whole and what proportion of each is applicable to a particular client. Plus, the lack of specificity bothered me. Strategic innovations in…what? While I have a penchant for blurting things out in meetings that end up on clients’ websites a couple of days later, I wanted our name to reflect who we actually are and what we do. [Read more...]