Archive for November, 2015

Does PR Overhype Unicorns?

Monday, November 30th, 2015

unicorn8Interesting article in a recent Economist about the hype surrounding high tech start-ups. The article, The Fable of the Unicorn, discusses a Silicon Valley darling called Theranos. The company has created a new type of blood test technology that could possibly turn the industry on its side. According to the Economist, that is a $75 billion a year industry so we’re talking about big money.

_76894099_theranos-logoThis article, and many like it that I’ve read over the years, highlights a big issue in the public relations industry—What responsibility does a PR manager have to give honest feedback and perspective to both the company’s executives and to the market in general? If the goal of a CEO is to build the valuation of the company, how much hyperbole is allowed? Lying can get you in to trouble, but is it a lie to merely hype the new company or product and paint a vision of where the company can eventually be?

“Yet in other ways Theranos evokes a central theme in today’s tech industry: startups which promise to disrupt lucrative businesses and become valued on the basis of fantasies about their potential, rather than present reality. Investors are so keen to get a piece of any sexy-sounding startup that they lap up entrepreneurs’ hype—and anyone who asks awkward questions risks being cut out of the funding round in favour of someone more trusting.”—The Economist

Our industry is full of examples of companies or products that were over-hyped only to crash and burn. The issue of FUD is also a part of this but that will be for another blog post down the road.

Promoting a company or product in order to gain attention and build valuation or secure investors is part of our job. To me the question becomes, who are we responsible too? I know that if I was working with a CEO or CMO who wanted us to over-promote something, or outright lie about it’s potential, I would have a problem with it. We always counsel our clients to be ethical and we expect them to behave the same.

Anyone who has had to give someone constructive criticism knows how awkward it can be. Imagine if you were working with a CEO or CMO and you knew they were bending the truth or outright lying, what would you do? Have you ever had a similar experience?

Why is it so hard to get sales and marketing to play nicely together?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

I’ve never quite understood why it’s so hard to get the folks in the sales department to work closely with the PR team. I’ve worked with many big technology companies, including Oracle, Microsoft, and Apple, and rarely have I ever had an easy time engaging with the sales team. It’s a very strange relationship even though it’s really a symbiotic relationship—both sides can benefit from working with the other.

One theory I’ve heard is that the people in each of these departments are fundamentally different personality wise.  Chief Marketer Magazine had an interested article that focused on what each side brings to the table, using a Kirk and Spock analogy:

Spock represents the logical, data-driven (machine-like) approach to decision making, while Captain Kirk Kirk and Spockrelied mainly on his training, experience and instincts to get the crew out of a tight spot. Ultimately, the Enterprise completed its mission because Kirk and Spock often collaborated to find the right answer together—demonstrating how successful man machine collaboration could be.

The key to success is collaboration. When I’ve run into roadblocks with sales reps refusing to share customer examples, it’s usually because they don’t want to lose control of the relationship with the customer. Plus, they don’t want someone from the PR team messing up the company’s standing with the customer—both of which I completely understand.

When I work with sales reps I go out of my way to outline exactly what I would like to do with the customer, how it would benefit both the customer and our company, and include them on all communication. It sounds pretty simply but, in fact, it takes discipline to make sure you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture beyond your PR needs and the sales reps’ needs—the importance of keeping the customer happy for the long-term benefit of the organization.

UDWhile I’ve had success placing customer stories for our customers—Urban Decay and Geberit come to mind as recent examples—and with placing customers as speakers at industry events, it’s critical that the PR team takes the time to develop a relationship with the sales team so that they trust what you’re doing and believe that what you’re doing is in the best interest of the customer first and your company second.

Do you have any good success stories about working with your sales reps and customers?

How to communicate effectively when “you know too much”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

presidential debateWatching the presidential debates, I have found the diversity of communication styles from candidate to candidate to be a fascinating study in spokesperson strategies and how they represent a brand. What traits make a spokesperson successful and what may not work in front of the camera or a journalist’s pen?

When you set aside the issues, what’s left are the basic elements of communication, or the strategies a spokesperson employs to convey their point of view and influence their audience while representing the company brand (or party image, in the case of presidential race).

Although public relations has evolved dramatically during the past 10 years, the basic guidelines for being a good media spokesperson have remained the same (with some tweaks). Below are some of the basics that you may already know but I hope they serve as a helpful reminder to anyone who plays the role of spokesperson, whether it’s a quick answer to a few questions or a longer, in-depth interview. As a spokesperson, you represent the company brand at all times, so how do you stick to the key tenants without going off track?

  • Remember, you know too much. You are an expert about your subject matter. So much so, that you likely have a level of understanding that is many levels deeper than the journalist. If you try giving them too much information, you will probably bore them and they may pick up a tangential point you may have mentioned instead of the topic you imagined would be the focus of the article. So keep the conversation simple and focused. This leads me to the next point…
  • Stay on message. There are many strategies for doing this, but in short: Say what you want to say, and then say it again. In other words, identify your core message and supportive key points before your presentation. Then, keep your core message simple and repeat it often so it sticks. You may give a lot of examples and scenarios to help explain your point, but always return to your core message. Another good way to wrap up your interview is to use numbered steps to outline your key points. For example, “ … the three main things I want to leave you with today are 1) …. 2) … 3) …” It may seem obvious, but reporters often appreciate the clear, concise recap.
  • Engage them in the conversation. This seems self-explanatory but when you have a lot to explain, it’s easy to start lecturing. If you feel this is happening, ask questions to make sure you’re not losing or boring them with too much detail.
  • Act as if you’re talking to your most important customer. Although you may be talking to one person, the end result may be an article describing your comments to a majority of your customers. You want it to sound respectful and concise.
  • Silence is golden. Don’t babble on uncomfortably if you get flustered when they stop asking questions. Just stop talking. This gives pause for questions and gives the journalist time to take notes. Also, remember that the questions the reporter asks reveal where he/she is going with their article and may flag areas of concern that you will need to address.
  • Set expectations accurately. No one likes to be let down or lied to, and it’s a real bummer when products you purchased don’t work as described. Be honest and deliver on your promises. Otherwise, you’ll start to sound like a presidential candidate and no one will trust you – OR your brand.

How do you represent your brand during media interviews? If you need help, give us a call! We have media training experts ready to help.

Enterprise transformation – Is it real this time?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Over the past 20 years or so that I’ve been involved in the enterprise software industry, I’ve heard endless predictions about how the industry is going to dramatically change and how this technology or that technology, or new delivery models like software as a service are going to put the established vendors out of business.

As far as I can tell, not that much has actually changed. Sure enterprises are using some cloud apps and improving mobile device support. But where the rubber actually meets the road, enterprises are still running their own infrastructures and closely guarding their content and data behind layers of IT administrators. The players aren’t changing much either, with Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and SAP accounting for the lion’s share of revenues.

IDC FutureNow, for its 2016 industry predictions IDC is saying that converging technology forces – primarily mobile computing, cloud services, big data and analytics, and social networking – will lead to wholesale digital transformations that will essentially blow up everything we know about enterprise software today. As enterprises embrace emerging technologies, IDC predicts we’ll see the creation of what it’s calling the “DX economy.”

According to IDC, besides determining the winners in nearly every industry – the companies that embrace the new technologies will win while those who don’t will lose – the DX economy will fracture the enterprise software industry. Per IDC’s press release about its research:

Nearly a third of today’s IT suppliers will be acquired, merged, downsized, or significantly repositioned. In this environment, enterprises will have to constantly monitor and assess the solutions offered by their suppliers and partners and be prepared to realign these relationships as needed.

Talk about disruption.

But the big question is whether IDC is right. Is this the moment when the enterprise software industry truly changes, or is this just another hype cycle?

Both sides have a case. On one side, you have the massive investments enterprises have already made in hardware and software which simply aren’t going anywhere. On the other, you have increasingly tech-savvy customers demanding a more cohesive and personalized experience than ever before. There’s also the much-discussed Internet of Things (IoT) that IDC says will be a “fertile area” for DX.

There’s little question that digital transformation is one of the hottest topics in the enterprise space today. But is it real or just another passing fad? Let us know what you think.

In your spare time, be sure to head over to IDC’s FutureScape landing page to soak in a series of 33 on-demand presentations covering many different industries and market segments. Full disclosure: I have not actually watched them all, but many do look promising. I’m interested in learning what’s up with wearables, for instance.

Too soon for holiday cheer?

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Starbucks has officially unveiled its bright red holiday cup, which begs the question: Is it too early for brands to begin pushing out their holiday products?

starbucks

Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon with early holiday promotions as well. If you peruse the mall or shop at Target you’ll inevitably see holiday decorations popping up everywhere. On the other hand, some companies like REI are skipping the Black Friday madness altogether.

Where do you stand? And what could early holiday marketing do for a brand? Some believe it could make a brand appear greedy by pushing holiday-inspired products on the consumer too soon as a way to boost sales. However, from a business perspective, it does appear to work. Early holiday promotions seem to inspire people to begin their holiday shopping much earlier than they normally would. Also, some people actually do prefer to get all their holiday shopping over and done with early.

On the other hand, some individuals and companies feel it’s way too much too soon. Let’s take a look at REI. The outdoor giant is choosing to close on Black Friday and give their employees a day to go outside and play in order to honor what their brand represents.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, it appears that pushing holiday products early has never seemed to hurt a brand’s reputation. So, consumer brand companies continue to do this even though we as consumers may not like it on an individual basis.

With the case of Starbucks, the bright cheery red cup flicks on a switch in some loyal coffee drinkers’ brains, signaling the start of the holiday season. That cup is genius from a marketing perspective; people see it and think Starbucks and holiday cheer as one entity. They are pulled like a magnet into shelling out four to five dollars for a peppermint mocha, gingerbread latte or any of the other holiday-inspired beverages.

Throughout social media there’s a variety of different opinions. Many people think it’s way too soon, while others are excited for the holiday to begin. When did a bright red paper coffee cup signal the start of the holiday season? It took years, but this is just one example of effective branding. People see the red Starbucks cup and think delicious, comforting, warm holiday cheer. It’s so simple and yet so devious.

Then there’s REI. A company that’s being applauded by some for essentially boycotting Black Friday.

Where do you stand on early holiday promotions?

 

How to Practice Radical Honesty

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

FORSSA, FINLAND - MAY 17, 2014: Sign Volkswagen against blue sky. The Volkswagen Group delivered over 9 million vehicles in period from January to November for the first time ever in 2014.

The Volkswagen scandal serves as the most recent reminder that it is important to be honest with your customers. Once a company has been “outed” by the media—or anyone other than itself for that matter—they have a long and arduous uphill battle to regain brand trust.

Back in the days of the TV hit show, Mad Men, the corporate “spin machine” might have churned out a well-crafted response in a time of crisis and then the public may have given a collective sigh of relief, as trust in organizations was fairly high at the time. But as authors of the recent Harvard Business Review article, “Volkswagen and the end of corporate spin” point out, the public today, as a general rule, errs on the side of mistrusting organizations. Although people can be quite forgiving, organizations seem to be starting at ground zero on the trust barometer scale, and must earn their customers trust over time.

The article points out that those feelings of mistrust, coupled with the landscape of social media along with other factors, has completely transformed the environment in which we must communicate today. The authors suggest that corporations take the notion of “corporate transparency” one step further, employing what they call “radical honesty,” whereby one is proactive about its transparency, making everything publicly available, and quickly.

While “radical honesty” may not seem like your cup of tea, we agree with the authors that, in today’s world, an organization’s truth not only will get out, but it probably already is out. In the spirit of this belief, the article provides some excellent general guidelines to communicate effectively in today’s brave new world:

  • Straight and soon. Get the story out honestly and quickly – always assume you have less time than you think.
  • Flood the zone. Use many channels – you need to connect with different kinds of stakeholders, different generations, genders, cultural backgrounds, with different communication habits.
  • Good, bad, and ugly. Encourage honest conversations about both hopes and fears. Remember that power relationships sanitize information that gets to the top. Ensure people can bring bad news, not just good.
  • Distill and simplify. Keep communication simple and relevant, don’t drown people in irrelevant data.
  • Repeat. Find ways to reiterate the message and build feedback loops. Remember that trust builds slowly and quickly fades once the message stops, or when people see or hear contrary data.

At McKenzie Worldwide, we help our clients communicate their authentic brand voice to customers, as well as guide them through this new world of communication—during day to day operations as well as in times of crisis.

What are you doing to help “keep it real” with your customers? If you need help, give us a call!


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