Last week the WannaCry ransomware raged around the world. I go into some of the specifics, and have more on my blog if you want links to the exact operations of the malware who has been hurt by its attack. There are several great stories from the media about how one British researcher accidentally tripped a kill switch and gave American IT managers a bit of a breather, and how Microsoft has created patches even for Windows XP versions to try to stop its spread. But there are some important lessons for PR pros who want to become newsjackers. Both Paul and I received dozens of emails with insipid quotes and me-too “sky is falling” non-news releases. Instead, the next time one of these events occurs, try to be fresh, be quotable, be unusual, find the story within the story. Don’t just trot out your CEO or expert, but look for something specific that your client can leverage.
Next, we pay homage to Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. We reference this article in Recode.
Both Paul and I owe Walt a lot in terms of how they approached their own work over their decades in tech, along with how reviews were constructed and how sources were accessed. The Recode article looks at the current crop of mass media tech reviewers and what they owe to the great man himself. We also talk about how reviews have changed over the years and the prominence of Google and the crowdsourced reviews sites. Sadly, vendors today are getting too sensitive about negative reviews, don’t understand that good reviews take money and experience, and think that “placement” is more important that the actual content of the review itself.
Listen to our 21 min. podcast here:
In this week’s FIR B2B podcast, Paul Gillin and I cover four different stories that show the evolution of online news and PR, with some lessons for B2B marketers. We first examine the announcement about a new $14 million initiative to combat declining trust in the news media and advance news literacy. It will be called the News Integrity Initiative and be administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in NYC. It will comprise a global coalition of tech leaders, academic institutions, nonprofits and funders, including Facebook, Mozilla, Edelman and Weber Shanwick PR firms, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark. Certainly, something on this level is needed desperately.
A promising story comes from the Washington Post, that covered the situation with a high school student newspaper that brought about the firing of their principal last month. The students, from a small town in Kansas, investigated the principal and found she faked her credentials. Good for them!
Everyone is taking about the United video of a passenger being dragged off a flight. While we can’t be entirely sure of the timeline, what we do note is how long it took United’s CEO Oscar Munoz to finally apologize and offer the passengers on that flight a refund for their trouble. Too bad PRWeek had already named him its “Communicator of the year.” Timing is everything. Still, we point to this piece for corporate PR pros: Why “Sorry” Is Still the Hardest Word with some solid lessons on how to gracefully apologize during a crisis.
Finally, there is the mess that YouTube is in with showing ads on racist and other objectionable videos. Advertisers such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dish Network are pulling their ads rather than take a chance that their brands would be tarnished. The WSJ and The Verge have covered this story recently and Google is trying to develop new automated methods to at least distinguish objectionable content and give advertisers more control over where their ads appear. Given that 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, an automated method is absolutely essential.
Listen to our 16 minute podcast here.
“On the one hand, AI is perhaps the most revolutionary set of innovations since the transistor. But on the other, the bad press surrounding it continues to mount, perhaps even faster than the innovations themselves. And AI promises to change the role technology plays for every industry on this planet.” So writes Jason Bloomberg in a post on LinkedIn Pulse earlier this month. Paul Gillin and I sat down with him in our latest podcast to discuss some of the issues surrounding how to best publicize AI and some lessons that overall PR and marketing folks can learn from the rise and fall and current rise of AI. Bloomberg has been a tech reporter for decades, writing for Forbes and various other B2B tech pubs over the course of his career.
Jason’s post makes four important points about PR and AI:
- AI vendors jump in with more hype than reality, what he calls AI-washing (after white-washing).
- AI has been on the verge of being the next big thing for decades now.
- AI will cost jobs. As if we didn’t have enough threats these days.
- Skynet. Need we say more?
Listen to our 20 min. podcast here:
As part of a class at Syracuse University in their Information Systems department, I will give a lecture on this topic next week. Here are my slides.
Shel Holtz is globe-trotting this week, so Paul Gillin and I take the reins of his FIR podcast. Our guests are Todd Van Hoosear, a well-known social media figure in Boston and elsewhere, and Barbara Selvin, associate professor at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, where she created and teaches a course on the changing busness models of the news industry. We cover a wide range of topics in the more than an hour discussion, including:
- Nick Bolton writes in Vanity Fair that fake news is about to get even scarier than you ever dreamed. “Advancements in audio and video technology are becoming so sophisticated that they will be able to replicate real news—real TV broadcasts, for instance, or radio interviews—in unprecedented, and truly indecipherable, ways.” This is a chilling piece. Maybe blockchain will help?
- How do American decide what to trust on social media? I turns out that who shared it is more important than where it came from. Not good news for those who disseminate real news.
- On a related note, James Somers makes a compelling case for why the ‘Like’ button ruined the internet by making engagement a bigger deal than the importance of the subject.
You can listen to our podcast here.
We start off by exploring how to fight comment-trolling. While trolls have been around since before the dawn of the internet, it seems we have few ways to fight them and restore civility, or at least move towards some semblance of it. A story on Neiman Lab’s blog tell how as Norwegian site is “taking the edge off rant mode” by making readers pass a quiz before commenting. Their theory is that if readers actually read an article and prove that they understand the basic issues, their comments will be more meaningful. It is a nice start. (see screenshot here)
Then there is this new protocol from Google that harnesses machine learning techniques to help publishers thwart abusive comments online. Google has published an API and has a demonstration on its website that shows you how you can use it. Paul and David debate whether it is safe to turn on comments on your own blog, and recommend some kind of human oversight to keep things on point. Sadly, you still have to fight off the trolls for now.
Our next item comes from Shel, who pointed out a survey that shows 80% of B2B companies overlook customer renewal messaging. We don’t understand why this very important audience continues to be overlooked by marketers. There is this tidbit: 42% of respondents say their companies invest less than 10% of their marketing budgets on renewal messaging efforts. “Research shows the story you need to tell to protect existing customer relationships is actually the antithesis of the disruptive, attention-grabbing story you need to tell to acquire net new customers.”
Finally, we examine the latest Fuqua/Duke Biz school CMO survey. It found that spending on marketing analytics is expected to leap from 4.6% to almost 22% of marketing budgets in the next three years. But marketers say barely a third of available data is used because managers lack the tools to measure the success of analytics and people who can link the data to marketing practice. We opine on why this is so and why social media continues to be stuck in a perennial “almost ready” status.
You can listen to our 17 minute podcast here:
This week Paul is crabby because of some bad PR experiences. He had an interview with one company that probably had seen “All the President’s Men” too many times and was confused about when something can go on background or off the record. Once something has been said, it is on the record.
Another all-too-common tactic is to send multiple follow up emails, “hope you had a nice weekend” (it is Tuesday, thank you very much) “and check back with you.” Really?
In the news last week was the Amazon S3 outage. Paul got several emails with offers of sources to comment on the dire state of affairs of the Internet. (Didn’t you know? Neither did we.)
To round out our sourpuss series, we have this report from the DC-based policy think tank called the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The study shows the tenor of tech reporting has become more pessimistic over the years, with a number of contributing factors such as more realistic understanding about the effects of tech, more sensationalist headlines, or just more people (including some news organizations) who want to use tech threats for their own particular purposes.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Kyle Cassidy proposed Why ‘Content Marketing’ Needs to be Killed Dead and Buried Deep. Cassidy is a former ad agency content marketer who has grown tired of the term and wants to see it retired. His well-written – and somewhat tongue-in-cheek – post gives some solid reasons why the term should be put out of its misery, including over-inclusive usage that renders it meaningless, not unlike the cutesy names that are now applied to departments that used to be called “personnel” and “marketing.” Given that our hosts both come from a long-standing journalism tradition in which the quality of our words was Job #1, he does have some salient points to consider.
I had an opportunity to discuss this on a recent podcast that I do with Paul Gillin here. If you don’t know Paul, he is cut from the same cloth as I: a long-time technology journalist who has started numerous pubs and websites and has written several books.
Cassidy writes about the “hot mess of skills” that can be found in the typical content marketer, who as he says is “a steaming pile of possibility” that combines “a savvy copywriter, editor, and brand strategist” all rolled up into one individual. True enough: you need a lot of skills to survive these days. But one skill that he just briefly mentions is something that both Paul and I have in spades. We consider ourselves journalists first and marketing our “content” a distant second.
Cassidy has a good point: “Content Marketing is a meaningless term. PR is content. Product is content. Blogs and social are content. Emails are content. Direct mail is content.” Yes, but. Not all content is created equal. Some content is based on facts, and some isn’t. Without a solid foundation in determining facts you can’t market anything, whether it is content or the latest music tracks. You have to speak truth to power, as the old Quaker saying goes.
Of course, fact-based journalism – what we used to call just “journalism” – is under siege as well these days, given the absence and abuse of facts that is streaming live every day from our nation’s capital. The notions of fake news – what we used to call rumors, exaggerations, lies and misleading statistics – is also rife and widespread. And even the New York Times seems to have trouble finding the right person to quote recently.
Part of me wants to assign blame to content marketers for these trends. But the real reason is just laziness on the part of writers, and the lack of any editors who in the olden days – say ten years ago – used to work with them to sharpen their writing, find these lazy slips of the keyboard, and hold their fingers to the fire to make sure they checked their quotes, found another source, deleted unsupported conclusions and the like. I still work with some very fine editors today, and they are uncanny how quickly they can zoom in on a particular weak spot in my prose. Even after years of writing and thousands of stories published, I still mess up. It isn’t (usually) deliberate: we all make mistakes. But few of us can find and fix them. Part of this is the online world we now inhabit.
But if the online world has decimated journalists, it really has taken its toll on editors who are few and infrequently seen. Few publications want to take the time to pass a writer’s work through an editor: the rubric is post first, fix later. Be the first to get something “out there,” irregardless (sic.) of its accuracy. As I said, you can’t be your own editor, no matter how much experience you might have and how many words a week you publish. You need a second (and third) pair of eyes to see what you don’t.
When I first began in tech journalism in the mid-1980s, we had an entire team of copy editors working at “the desk,” as it was called. The publication I was working for at the time was called PC Week, and we put the issue to bed every Thursday night. No matter where in the world you were, on Thursday nights you had to be near a phone (and this was the era before cell phones were common). You invariably got a call from the desk about something that was awry with your story. It was part of the job.
Several years ago, I was fortunate to do freelance work for the New York Times. It was a fun gig, but it wasn’t an easy one. By the time my stories would be published in the paper, almost every word had been picked over and changed. Some of these changes were so subtle that I wouldn’t have seen them if the track changes view wasn’t turned on. A few (and very few) times, I argued with the copy desk over some finer point. I never thought that I would miss either of those times. They seem like quaint historical curiosities now.
So let’s kill off the term content marketing, but let’s also remember that if we want our content to sing, it has to be true, fact-based, and accurate. Otherwise, it is just the digital equivalent of a fish wrapper.
Going back to our podcast, Paul and I next pick up on the dust-up between Crowdstrike and NSSLabs over a test of the former’s endpoint security products. Crowdstrike claims NSS tests didn’t show its product in the best light and weren’t ‘authorized’ to review it. It’s even taken NSS to court. Our view: too bad. If you don’t like the results, shame on you for not working more closely with the testers. And double shame for suing them. David has been on the other end of this scenario for a number of years and offers an inspiring anecdote about how a vendor can turn a pig’s ear into a silken test. Work with the testing press, and eventually, you too can turn things around to benefit both of you.
Finally, we bring up the issue of a fake tweet being used by the New York Times and Newsmax in regards to the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn earlier this week. The Times eventually posted a correction, but if the Grey Lady of journalism can be fooled, it brings up questions of how brands should work with parody or unauthorized social media accounts. Lisa Vaas has a great post on Naked Security that provides some solid suggestions on how to vet accounts in the future: Look for the blue verification check mark, examine when the account was created and review the history of tweets.
You can listen to our podcast (23 min) here:
Paul Gillin and I discuss a variety of topics this week. First, the notion of automated phone attendants to provide outbound sales support is taking on new meaning when Paul’s got a call from Brian the fund-raiser. Turns out Brian wasn’t a real person, but it initially fooled Paul!
Next, perhaps it’s time to sharpen our use of language. We talk about lazy usage of meaningless words, such as flexible robust high-performance. Say what?
I note that the latest crop of domain name extensions is completely out of control, not to mention pricey and making it harder for brands too. You can listen to our 20-minute podcast here:
Both Paul and I have known Sam Whitmore since all three were at PC Week (now eWeek) back in the go-go 1980s. Since 1998, Sam has been running his own consultancy for PR firms, called MediaSurvey. We spent some time talking to him about a fascinating series of posts on his site that began with an open letter that purported to be from a fictional agency to its fictional B2B client. The letter explains, from the agency’s point of view, why the relationship isn’t more productive. It inspired several comments, as well our own curiosity about Sam’s motivations.
The letter makes three points, with the basic thesis being that “We need max access and a budget bump,” meaning that PR budgets have to reflect a more approach to what agencies do. The fictional PR firm asks to be given better access to customer feedback and become a more strategic partner of the client’s marketing efforts, and to have better relationships with content gateways that will outlast a point product release. The tone of the letter is snarky, but also to the point, with good suggestions about the brave new world of what Sam calls “content platforms” such as ITCentralStation, ProductHunt, and SoftwareAdvice. Whitmore calls these the “IT version of Yelp,” and notes that they’re increasingly powerful in shaping buying decisions. Do you know about them? I actually contributes product reviews to the first site and have seen impressive results, but Paul had barely heard of them.
You can listen to our 27 minuter podcast here: