Ten Biggest PR Blunders of the year

I wrote this some time ago. Can you guess when?

So it is that time of year, when we think back on all of our past successes and failures. Here are the most notable PR blunders that we’ve seen in the year. We have removed the actual names of the offending parties, just to make it a more sporting game.

  1. Berating the reporter for non-responsive emails. This includes: cc’ing my boss about my behavior, intimating that I was in bed with one of the client’s competitors, and USING ALL CAPS. Totally not cool. Focus on building a relationship with me and my colleagues.
  2. Calling after emailing some news. See above about berating. Once is enough for contact. Twice is annoying. Thrice means you go to the back to the bus. I do look at my emails. Assume no response from me means I am not interested. Realize that every day I get dozens upon dozens of requests to “have the CEO brief you on this amazing trend.” Also, if you email multiple people here at my website, don’t expect any of them to answer. The more is not the merrier.
  3. Stating this is the “first ever thing” when it most certainly isn’t. Don’t you think I would check? Shouldn’t you challenge your client to provide more details and specifics and you’ll find out they really aren’t the first. And don’t argue with me. If I don’t think it is the first, accept this and move on. We always have the last word.
  4. Not answering a direct question for more information with specifics. I am on deadline. Seconds count. Get your ducks in a row before calling me. You would be amazed how many emails and press releases omit basic information, such as pricing. “We don’t publish pricing because we are a Web service and every deal is custom.” Still not an excuse.
  5. Starting a conference call with more than three people on it: you (PR rep), me, the client is all that is needed. Actually, we don’t really need you on the call. But more than that isn’t going to end well. It is hard to ask a question when so many people are on a conference call. And speaking of which, don’t just read me a script either. Interact and ask me real questions about what I am interested in. Don’t know what I am interested in? Try reading my clips, and more than the one that the client is berating you for not appearing in too.
  6. Insist on making it slide-by-slide through the entire 57 slide PPT deck. Three slides should be enough. Or none at all. See above. The less scripted your presentation, the more I will actually listen. Calls shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes.
  7. Don’t schedule a Webex to show me slides without any demo, particularly after I said that I wanted to see a demo. Listen to me please. Better yet, give me an eval account to your client’s new whizbang Web service and I can try it out on my own and not tie up everyone’s time. If it really requires hand-holding, then perhaps it isn’t ready for the press to look at it either.
  8. Don’t send me an analyst’s report without a URL where I can actually download it and read it. I don’t want your summary, if I am interested; I want to read the report. A link to a lead-gen capture page doesn’t count. Same goes for the press release: you would be amazed how many releases aren’t posted on the client’s website.
  9. If you want me to do an embargo, play fair with all of my competitors. And be specific about times and dates. Yes, I can get confused sometimes. Put the expiration date information on each piece of correspondence, because sometimes I forget. Better yet, forget embargoes entirely. And understand that embargoes also complicate my ability to reference something that won’t appear on your client’s website until the due date. We like to actually check our outbound links before we post the article containing them.
  10. Remember we have a comments/discussion forum for the following things that you are free and welcome to use:
    –Your client was not mentioned in my article, but does offer these amazing things and you want me to write a separate piece on them. Use the comments.
    — You would like me to make these additional points that I some how forget to mention in my article. Use the comments.
    –The CEO has a different take on things than I. S/he is entitled to that opinion, and welcome to post a comment.
    –You have this great case study about a customer using your client’s tech. Post a link to the website where you have more info.


We are back after a hiatus and speaking to Anna Griffin, who recently joined cloud storage provider Commvault as Chief Market Officer. Anna has held marketing leadership positions at Smartsheet, Intercom, Nortel, CA and Juniper Networks, among others. That longevity has helped her gain perspective in how to operate in good times and not-so-good times, and our interview explores what she has learned from these experiences.

Anna told us about how marketers have to be careful not to let their organization appear to be a cost center. Rather, they should believe and demonstrate that they are a necessary and valuable asset to the company. Take advantage of a downturn by leaning in and focusing on customers so that the company can craft a message that’s more relevant to their needs. She suggested that marketers should fight for their budgets and focus on high-value activities that will help the company grow. “Someone has to grow, even in lean times,” she said.

Anna spoke about how she has embraced many of the tenets of B2C marketing, even though she has spent more of her career in the B2B world. “I believe that is true since the beginning of time; we are selling human-to-human after all.” Maybe we should start using the term H2H?

“We should remove any frictions in the purchasing process by understanding that community is the new B2B playbook and that customers want things now,” she said. The sales organization needs to be part of the marketing effort, and marketers should be sure playbooks are coordinated.

Being a market leader isn’t just about touting your company’s presence on some “magic quadrant” because customers don’t buy MQs, Anna said. “We have to show more specifics about how we can solve the actual customers’ problems. This means we have to be more targeted in how we can add value for them on day one.”

Listen to our 19 min. podcast here.

FIR B2B podcast episode #156: Time to talk about the Twitter

Paul and I have been on Twitter for 15 years. While we were some of the first business tech journalists to use it, we have also spent a considerable amount of time investing in the care and cultivation of our accounts, and Paul has written several books about social media marketing. Even before the circus called Elon came to the Twittersphere, we had planned to devote a podcast to discussing whether Twitter can thrive in the era of constant outrage or whether it is destined to be another Myspace.

A couple of interesting sources informed this discussion, including Jon Faverau’s interview with Twitter Co- founder Ev Williams, in which Williams recounts some of the early decisions that drove Twitter’s architecture and news orientation. There was also this piece by Jonathan Haidt in the Atlantic on how the past decade of our lives have been influenced by social media and especially how the retweet function has driven misinformation and disinformation. Haidt believes social media has weakened the intrinsic trust that we place in each other.

While Elon’s dreams of a truly open source and “inclusive arena for free speech” might be taking Twitter down the wrong path, there are still many reasons for B2B marketers to use the network as long as they are authentic, can stick to their knitting and promote longer forms of content such as blogs and, yes, podcasts and videos. Just remember to stay in your swim lane.

You can listen to our 17-minute podcast here:

Podcast: How to do effective SEO (this is not a scam)

Over the years I have received numerous emails from people trying to sell me how I can transform my website to become #1 on Google searches. The promises always have a hollow ring, because while they might work at a particular moment in time (if at all), they miss the longer-term implications of how search engine rankings work. Usually, they are just scammers designed to separate you from your cash.

The field of search engine optimization or SEO is fraught with these charlatans, and I have been reluctant to write about this because I am not really an expert. Over the years I have adopted a very simple SEO strategy: just provide the best possible content, try to keep the links on my website as fresh as possible, and fix broken or outdated links whenever I can. I realize this is a far cry from “real” SEO, I know.

I remember when I first put up my website back in the early 1990s when I thought, I won’t have any broken links. Well, that wasn’t a sustainable strategy and I think it wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep up. I was reminded of them when I spent the better part of a few hours last week trying to fix the various broken links that Techtarget created for my content when I was searching for an article that I wrote back in 2006. I have written a ton of things for their various websites (such as SearchSecurity.com) and there is a lot of repair work on broken links, tracing down outdated content and finding that many of my original work has been updated by someone else.

Tony PatrickAnyway, my point is that SEO can be more of one of the dark arts of magic than science. I was delighted to come across Influence&Co., a content marketing firm here in St. Louis that understands these issues and has tried to help their clients with their SEO strategies. For our latest FIR B2B podcast, Paul Gillin and I interviewed Tony Patrick, who directs digital marketing for the firm.

One of Tony’s colleagues wrote this piece in Sales & Marketing.com on SEO tactics. The piece mentions several tips, including

  • Doing keyword research and then implementing them in your content and metadata,
  • Why inbound links matter and how to go about placing them effectively,
  • Placing content in external publications and then doing back links on your site, and also
  • Posting both textual pieces with video and podcasts to exploit different learning styles of site visitors.

We explore some of the suggestions mentioned in that piece to help B2B marketers become better SEO practitioners. The basics behind the SEO industry haven’t changed much in the past decade, but it helps to hire someone like Influence&Co. that specializes in this area to make sure your website gets traction and well, influence. We also discus how to vet potential content marketing partners to deliver the best and most useful content, and avoid those “make money fast” scammers with their “guarantees.” Tony also gives his suggestions on the best tools to use to track your search results, including Semrush, Hubspot, Ahrefs, and Moz.com.

You can listen to the 19 minute podcast here:

If you like this episode and want to subscribe to the series (Paul and I produce two a month), you can go here to get email alerts, listen to them on Apple Podcasts, or use your favorite podcast app with this feed link.

FIR B2B podcast #154: SMS Texting for B2B With Barbara Casey

Earlier this month, Nate Nead wrote this screed on ReadWrite (a site where David once managed an editorial team) about how marketing is getting more difficult. We both think that this isn’t true and that with the right automation and tools it is getting easier to target audiences. Nead says, “Effectively persuading and reaching customers in the modern world requires a more nuanced, organic approach.” Did he miss that memo about 10 years ago? If you aren’t already doing that you’re out of a job. Nate also wrote that “It’s incredibly tough to stand out and you’ll probably have to spend a lot of money to do it.” Again, we don’t think money is the answer. Being more effective at telling a compelling story is.

Let’s move on to our conversation with our guest. With social media proving less and less effective at generating and converting leads, small business owners, in particular, are looking for better ways to create dialogues with their customers. Well, have you thought about SMS text marketing? Barbara Casey is CEO of Mobile High 5 and she says a text campaign, combined with a loyalty program, can yield three- to five-fold traffic spikes when a text goes out. The company works with retailers, restaurateurs and service providers to build custom mobile marketing programs that drive customers to shop or dine more frequently. We spoke to her about how to be effective at integrating SMS with loyalty programs, ways to mix online and bricks and mortar retailing, and why you should know the text code 7726.

FIR B2B podcast episode #150: Marketing truths from Ruth Stevens

Ruth StevensThis episode brought us together with Ruth Stevens, whose consulting firm, eMarketing Strategy, helps clients build customer acquisition and retention strategies along with other marketing programs. Ruth has had a distinguished career. She has taught marketing at the NYU Stern School, the Columbia Business School and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. Before that  she held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, IBM and other firms.

Back in the early 1990s Ruth headed up marketing for the Ziff Davis Computer Library, an early – and highly profitable – business that repackaged content from Ziff-Davis’ portfolio of publications and delivered it on a CD-ROM, if you can believe it. Ruth is an unabashed fan of B2B marketing with a wide scope of interests. As a blogger on Biznology.com, she has lamented the often toxic relationship between sales and marketing organizations and described tools for connecting with your website visitors that even our hosts were unaware of.

Ruth is past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine. She has written a number of books, the most recent being B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, which was co-authored Theresa Kushner. In a recent presentation, she talked about ways to plan your content marketing library.

Among the topics we touch on in this interview is the value of account-based marketing, the importance of understanding the difference between lead quantity and quality, the mistakes that B2B marketers make that still drive her crazy and why B2B marketing is more complex, difficult and fun than B2C marketing. You can listen to our 20 min. podcast recording below.

FIR B2B podcast episode #149: Cutting out the middleman in B2B PR

For years Paul and I have used Help A Reporter Out. The service — now owned by Cision —  aims to eliminate the gatekeeping middleman role of corporate PR, and put sources directly in touch with the journalists that want to quote them. HARO, as it is known, has been less useful as of late, but there is a new, venture-backed startup called Qwoted that is making some important inroads. We spoke to its CEO and co-founder, Dan Simon. He told us Qwoted had close to a thousand inquires last month and is growing. The service has a free tier (individuals can make three monthly requests, agencies five) and a paid tier.

Qwoted flips the PR paradigm on its head by letting journalists initiate the conversation and cutting out the need for pitches.

Simon has lots of pointers to help PR and marketing staff get the most out of his service. He is deeply steeped in the field, having been president of Cognito, a New York financial services agency, among other roles. Simon recommends that you use the tools he provides to search on previous successful match-ups and examine the job titles more carefully, as well as to fill out the profiles to make your expertise more transparent and compelling.

You can listen to our 16 min. podcast here:

Recently published stories you might be interested in

First off, mea culpa for sending out that test message earlier this month. As you might have guessed, I have moved everyone to a new listserv (still using Mailman after all these years) at Pair.com, and things seem to be working. LMK if you want to be removed or have your address updated or have issues with the mailings.

Last week was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, where all of my sources are above average. I flew for the first time domestically on business, and (unlike the fictional town) the flights and airports were crowded, but everyone was masked up and behaving, thankfully. The trip was to visit the Cyber Shield exercises held at the Utah National Guard base outside of Salt Lake City. I was staying on the base across the street from the monster NSA data center that you can see in the background.

The Guard story is posted here on Avast’s blog. I write about how the Guard is using live cyber ranges to train its cyber soldiers and the very realistic scenarios it is using. The dedication of the 800-some participants during this two-week event was amazing to see first-hand, and I appreciated all the time the Guard took to explain what they were doing and give me some of their stories of how they got involved with both the Guard and how it related to their careers in cybersecurity.

I also wrote another post for Avast about the Pegasus Project that was the work of security researchers at The Citizen Lab in Toronto, the Security Lab of Amnesty International in Berlin, and the Forbidden Stories project in Paris. Pegasus is a surveillance tool sold by the Israeli private firm NSO Group. It can be deployed on both Apple and Android phones with incredible stealth, to the point that targets don’t even know it is there.

The three groups examined phones from 67 people and found 34 iPhones and three Androids had contained traces of Pegasus – about a third of these had evidence that Pegasus had successfully compromised each phone. What was interesting was two items: First, one of the hacked iPhones was running the most current version of iOS. Second, many of the targets show a very tight correlation between the timestamps of the files deposited by Pegasus and particular events that link to the monitoring of the victim. Someone was very interested in these people, which ranged from politicians to journalists, someone who was a client of NSO and could target their tool to these people.

Several years ago, one of my contacts showed me the power of Pegasus on a test phone at my office and it was scary how easily the spyware could collect just about anything on the phone: texts, pictures, IP addresses, phone contacts, and so forth. If you want to read more about this project, several media outlets have written stories about it and are linked in my Avast blog.

Since I am in self-promotions mode, you might also want to check out some of my other work that I have written recently:

  • A story for CSOonline about a new defensive knowledge graph done by Mitre for the NSA called D3FEND. The project will help IT managers find functional overlap in their security tools and help guide new purchases as well as make better defensive decisions.
  • A podcast about a new report by Forrester that Paul Gillin and I recorded about the changing landscape of B2B discussion groups. The 14 minute conversation is how the shift from LinkedIn to Facebook groups has evolved and why IT vendors and channel partners should pay attention to the other social network outlets.

FIR B2B podcast #148: The Changing Landscape of B2B Discussion Groups

A new report on social media usage by the channel by Jay McBain of Forrester Research finds that the groups people use and the way they use them is changing amid a 13.2%, 490 million-user surge in social media use in 2020.

The report lists major tech channel groups that both managed service providers and channel managers should know about for each social network. McBain’s informal research found that Facebook Groups have replaced LinkedIn as the place to talk tech. He claims many LinkedIn groups have become ghost towns overrun by spam. Half of his respondents to his survey were disappointed with engagement levels on the platform.

The report prompted me to realize that he belonged to more than 50 groups and couldn’t remember the last time he posted — or even clicked on content on any of them. McBain has identified more than 40 FaceBook Groups that IT folks should take a closer look at. 

One of the more important lessons of this research is that social media groups aren’t an ad medium but a way to engage potential partners on a grassroots level. Too often we both have seen plenty of spam or vendor posts that don’t really encourage discussion. The speed at which channel firms have apparently abandoned LinkedIn groups shows how quickly attitudes can change if group members don’t believe their needs are being respected.

McBain also reviewed several other social networks, some of which we hadn’t heard of. Up-and-comers include the audio- and app-oriented Clubhouse and Discord, which was originally for gamers but which has broadened its scope. McBain rates Twitter the second most popular spot for tech content, even though it really doesn’t have the community engagement tools to match Facebook or LinkedIn. And he advises B2B companies to keep an eye on Reddit, which had 52 million daily active users worldwide at the end of 2020, up 44% year-over-year.

Although the report is aimed at technology channel companies, it’s a useful way for any B2B marketer to take a fresh look at the social groups you use to get your message across.

You can listen to our 14 min. podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast #147: Marketing Lessons From the Open Source World With Priyanka Sharma

This week we talk to Priyanka Sharma, who is the General Manager of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. The group has assembled a massive collection of 600 vendor members, ranging from little-known startups to the biggest companies on the Internet. The foundation is the steward of more than 80 open source projects that support Kubernetes, Prometheus, Vitess, Envoy and other technologies that deal with distributed data structures, network policies and cloud orchestration. The foundation helps to put on an annual conference, which has a business value track this year, and has a library of webinars to help spread the word about the revolutionary technology called software containers. She told us during the podcast that “Life isn’t a zero sum game and we have to work together” to help market cloud tech.

Our interest in this portfolio is high — Paul has written most recently about the foundation here for SiliconAngle.  We spoke to her about her role at CNCF and the tactics the foundation has found to help mainstream IT adopt cloud and container technologies, getting her members to agree on a single standard, how to sell open source to the prototypical “pointy-haired boss” and what tech marketers can learn from the cloud evolution that they can apply to solve their own business problems. You can listen to the 20 min. interview here.